Why The Whales Came
British Youth Music Theatre
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth
Perennial favourite Michael Morpurgo’s Why The Whales Came lends itself beautifully to a musical piece by British Youth Music Theatre.
Adapted by bookwriter and lyricist Nikki Racklin to accommodate composer and musical director Bella Barlow’s some 19 songs, it is a gentle story of community, echoes of war, rumour and survival. There are unicorns, spirits, warfare, derring-do and adventure as two children break the rules and unite a fractured village in an act of great compassion.
Alexander Cheetham is apposite as the enigmatic Birdman, shunned and feared by the Bryher islanders; the ubiquitous percussionist Ben Hastings is Danny who, with the erstwhile Gracie (a spot-on Alice Kermeen), pushes the boundaries and brings peace to the wounded hearts of islanders whose menfolk have left to fight in the Great War.
The large company portrays the rough and tumble of schooldays where transport is a boat and water is in the soul, and island life where there is daily strife for survival and bullies around the corner.
Simple puppetry, Lu Herbert’s tonal costuming and pared back set, basic props and Nathan Benjamin’s moody lighting evoke remoteness, rustic / seashore life and a pervading darkness and fear.
Any shortcomings lie with the adaption as the youngsters are, to the last, talented (some actor-singers, some actor-singer-musicians and three band members) and far too many to mention (and many unidentifiable) but standout are Isobel Pritchard and Samuel Littell as Mr and Mrs Pritchard whose voices are superb.
Phyllida Crowley-Smith’s choreography shines with pace and rhythm but it is the music that pervades: sea shanties and ear-worming reprises, strident songs of patriotism and war games, and quiet reflection of hollow glory and cruelty and greed. Tremendous.
British Youth Music Theatre is a national performing arts company that specialises in creating brand new music theatre. As a Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, BYM aims to put young people at the centre of the creative process to produce vibrant, innovative and original works and offers training to singers, actors dancers, musicians and stage technicians.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell