Review: Whistle Down the Wind, Union Theatre

A gently lovely production of Whistle Down the Wind makes for a tender Christmas treat at the Union Theatre

“He’s not a fella, he’s Jesus”

Do miracles happen in Burnley? You might not have immediately thought so but Whistle Down the Wind begs to differ. Russell Labey and Richard Taylor’s adaptation, as distinct from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s, draws variously on Mary Hayley Bell’s novel, Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse’s screenplay and Richard Attenborough and Bryan Forbes’ film to tell its own version of Jesus appearing once again in a stable, kinda sort of maybe. 

Cathy, Nan and Charles are three Lancashire schoolkids who one day find a strange man in their barn. Rumours of a convict on the loose are swirling around their village but Cathy immediately clocks him as our Lord Jesus Christ and swears her siblings to secrecy. Sure enough, word soon spreads around the other local kids but as they all decide to keep the secret too, delighting in the rapturous devotion he, or He, inspires in them. Continue reading “Review: Whistle Down the Wind, Union Theatre”

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre

Some of the beauty of Flowers for Mrs Harris gets lost at Chichester Festival Theatre but it remains a striking new musical

“It’s a work of art… something not real, made to make you feel”

I had much love for Flowers for Mrs Harris when it premiered in Sheffield a couple of years ago, and so I was delighted to see Daniel Evans deciding to revive it at his new abode over in Chichester. My only cavil came with the placing of this most heartfelt musical in the vast space of the Festival Theatre rather than the intimacy of the Minerva where it might perhaps have been better served.

So much of the beauty of the show (book by Rachel Wagstaff from Paul Gallico’s novel, music & lyrics by Richard Taylor) comes from the fact that it isn’t a bells and whistles epic. It is something far more subtle that truly celebrates the ordinary in extraordinary, as Clare Burt’s charlady Ada Harris dares to dream of owning a Christian Dior dress and in working to achieve that dream, illuminates the lives of those around her.

Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides. Continue reading “Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)”

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships. Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible”

Album Review: Stuart Matthew Price – All Things In Time

“Am I wishing for too much?”

Stuart Matthew Price, currently to be found in the ensemble of Shrek The Musical, has long carried the (potentially) dubious honour of being named one of the brightest upcoming stars of British musical theatre since wowing people in Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007 and since then has been quietly carving out an interesting career, more often than not choosing to highlight lesser-known musical theatre writing. And so too does he do here on his debut album, All Things in Time featuring a selection of the cream of new musical theatre writing, including himself as he is a composer as well as performer.

Dougal Irvine’s beautifully relaxed ‘The Touch of Love’ was a surprising highlight for me: I’d usually plump for piano arrangements every time but Irvine’s light touch (ba-dum) works wonders here to make this a great track. And followed by Laurence Mark Wythe’s Goodnight Kiss, the album really does come off as a fabulous showcase for interesting writing: both of these songs standing up excellently individually, but also suggesting interesting musicals that might accompany them. Likewise, Stiles & Drewe’s ‘Wishing For The Normal’, a characterful duet with Caissie Levy, and Grant Olding’s ‘Midnight Will Happen Without Us’ are other great signs of the health of new British musical writing. Continue reading “Album Review: Stuart Matthew Price – All Things In Time”