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Technically a difficult show, but I thought the set design from Gary Nash and lighting design, courtesy of David Houghton were both excellent.  The set gave the cast scope to move around, but still be within the requirements of the piece, whilst the lighting as always added much to the feel and atmosphere, helping to create the different moods.  I loved the way the lights created long shadows on the backcloth in some scenes, it was very atmospheric, as were the storms and the fire at the end – all very well done within the confines of a small theatre and the budget!

Musically there were some highs and the occasional low – but on the whole the band sounded good, and accompanied the cast well.  I liked the band where it was, because it gave more room for the staging, and didn’t impede the audience’s view of the stage, which is always a problem in the library theatre.

Sound was slightly off the night I was there, so I hope it improved over the run, as it is always a shame if people can’t be heard, particularly when they work so hard to get their music and lib to the right level of performance.

For this production costumes are a secondary consideration, they don’t make or break the show, they are what they are, and everything looked fine, there were no discordant notes.

The use of live kittens and snakes added much to the production, the snakes were beautiful specimens and I appreciate the problems of people who were not trained snake handlers trying to manipulate them whilst singing, and keeping in character, so well done Paul Rogers as the Snake Preacher and  Josh Thompson as Earl.

Josh is in a situation at the moment where he seems to strike the right note in every part he plays, and in this felt he captured the rather sly and sneaky character really well.  Paul also has the sort of look that suits the rather devious old style revivalist preacher.

For me, the stand out performance was Paul Ramsey as The Man.  He got the raw emotion and roughness of the part, both in his lib and musically, whilst also showing great depth to his portrayal.  Paul brought dimension to the part, by using a strong but light touch occasionally, and some very pure notes, whilst at other times his voice was gravelly with pent up frustration.

The opening number Keys to the Vaults of Heaven is always a beautiful moment, however the sound was not well-balanced, and those nearer the stage mics were really blasting out, whilst some of the harmonies were getting lost.  Again, I hope this was addressed for future performances, as there are some lovely harmonies that deserve to be heard.  Stacey Peck was a fine fire and brimstone preacher!

I felt the choreography for the number was a little unimaginative, in fact throughout, most of the choreography had too many straight lines and set pieces, which wouldn’t have been the case, and I wonder if Kate had actually done much of the choreography as it did not have her usual rather quirky take on things.  The scene in the bar had everyone doing exactly the same jive moves, would have been nice to split it up a bit and be more natural.

The ensemble seemed to struggle with the opening of Act 2 – they were singing off stage and I couldn’t get a sense of the actual music, again I think this was probably a sound issue.

There were times when I felt the cast were shouting too much, and the amplification seemed rather tinny – which again coloured the feel of the emotions.  I would have also liked to have seen certain very emotional moments, for example those between Swallow and The Man to have been quieter and more controlled – which would have possibly been even more powerful than the big sounds coming from them.

Bethany McLeish showed her singing and acting skills well as Swallow, but was perhaps missing that edge of innocence that would make us believe that she believed that The Man was Jesus.  That said, it is a big part and she gave it depth and contrasts.

I liked Ruby Thorne as Brat, she has a charming voice and acted well, whilst James Haxell was an amusing Poor Baby, he has some good lines which he delivered well.  A shame his mic wasn’t on for his first bit of lib.

The junior ensemble were all good in their own ways, but Alice Hayden, Abigail Houghton and Allanah Rogers, all gave it that something extra to make them stand out from the crowd.  But well done to all the youngsters – Sheliya Carrington-Burrowes, Rebecca Haxell, Pippa Maidment, Bevan Noble and Evie Wright – you got it right and added much to the show.  A highlight  was No Matter What.

Terry Hooper managed his motorcycle well, and had the swagger needed for a young guy trying to make his way with the ladies.  The number he did with Swallow was emotive, but I felt his number with Candy was a little awkward somehow.

Candy was played by Charlene Carrington-Burrowes, she had the right mannerisms and feistiness for her character and was good contrast to Swallow.

The Vaults soloist Reece Lowen, again made a good impression, he has come on in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.

Richard Haxell played the childen’s father Boone with empathy and some raw emotion, whilst Tim Hayden was a rough-voiced Sherriff, assisted by gun-toting Luke Murphy, as his deputy.

It was good to see Andre Newman back on stage as Ed – he kept his character well, even to retaining his limp when dancing, and he always gives nice meaning to his numbers.

So, all in all I liked the show, the setting, the scenery and lighting, with some good performances, but not a complete wow as some previous Griffins shows have been – but very different in feel to other productions of Whistle I have seen, which is always a plus point, as it brought out parts of the show that other productions had kept slightly hidden.  A production lifted by a couple of stand out performances.  Well done to everyone as it is not an easy show to do.



review date: 12TH June 2013


Director: Julia Fraser  MD: Julia Fraser & Charlotte Tabert

Choreographer: Kate Johnson


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