Whistle Down the Wind

Worcester Operatic and Dramatic Society Youth Section (WODYS)

A stranger's sudden arrival in a barn tests the beliefs of a rural community in a powerful WODYS production of Whistle Down The Wind at the Swan Theatre this week..

The children think the stranger is Jesus Christ - the adults think he's more likely to be an escaped dangerous convict in this musical version of the Mary Hayley Bell novel.

If the plot sounds familiar, it's probably because of the Bryan Forbes classic film version starring Hayley Mills and Alan Bates from the early 1960s. Here, the action is transferred from Lancashire to Louisiana in 1959 where the folks of a poor farming town are scraping to make a living.

The Man, a strong lead performance by Harry Jobson, is discovered by Swallow, played with a neatly balanced mix of credulity and enforced maturity by Hana Copestake. She is eager to believe it is the Second Coming of Jesus on the grounds that he could restore her late Ma to life and ease the pain of the poverty stricken trailer life she shares with her sister Brat (Rebecca Hitchings) and brother Poor Baby, a remarkably confident and assured performance by nine-year-old William Fall-Taylor.

The shift to America gives co-writers Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Jim Steinman - of Meatloaf fame - the chance to bring in some driving soft rock alongside big show tunes and the young cast and the musicians handle every kind of music with ease and style.

Two Revivalist preachers, the suitably sinister Isiah Martin and Bertie Semczyszyn (CORRECT) whose party piece involves using a venomous snake to test religious belief, add to the growing tension in the town and Swallow finds her faith tested by the temptation of troubled young biker Amos (Harry Collins), ready to whisk her away and ditch his rebellious girlfriend Candy (Ella Cleary), who is also looking for a direction out of this one-horse town. But the adults, led by the Sheriff (George Baylis) are inexorably on the trail of The Man and the children can't stop them.

Hana Copestake is outstanding and Ella Cleary sings superbly but the strength in depth of the young cast carries the show and all the young lead singers tackle some difficult songs very well. The younger members show there's plenty of talent waiting in the wings and the sharply choreographed chorus of singers and dancers dazzle in the big production numbers.

It's not one of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's best known musicals but it features enough quality songs, notably A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing To Waste, Tire Tracks, There's A Prayer and the title tune to leave musical fans singing and reflecting on another superb production by these talented young amateur performers. They might not be able to save The Man but they can put on a fine show.

It runs until Saturday.

Paul Francis