Whirligig (W.S.G. Productions Ltd.) was set up in 1978 by David Wood and John Gould and aimed to provide primary school children with low cost seats for high quality children’s theatre. While educational theatre inside the classroom existed, Whirligig moved children’s theatre to mainstream theatres, many of which had never hosted children’s performances. Whirligig’s philosophy was to create plays that were entertaining for children and incorporated a problem or moral dilemma that children would find interesting using appealing characters and situations. Children’s theatre was at the time not considered to be particularly important and commercially viable due to the necessarily low prices for seats and Whirligig often struggled to break-even. Sponsorship was, therefore, essential and “Clarks Shoes” provided Whirligig with financial subsidy, free cut-out toy theatres and free programmes for all children from 1979 to 1983.
With Clarks’ support, Whirligig toured The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner, Nutcracker Sweet and The Ideal Gnome Expedition to venues such as Sadler’s Wells London, The Grand, Wolverhampton and the Royal Theatre, Hull. While the alliance won an ABSA award and the productions received much critical acclaim, Clarks Shoes was unable to provide further sponsorship after 1983 due to financial difficulties. With the help of the Arts Council and other sponsors, Whirligig continued to perform in the following years with The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See…, The Selfish Shellfish, The Papertown Paperchase and their most successful production The Gingerbread Man. They performed at, amongst other, Oxford Playhouse, Theatre Royal, Bath, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh and The Grand Theatre, Leeds.
While critics responded with much enthusiasm (The Times called David Wood the “national children’s dramatist”), the Arts Council never offered Whirligig regular annual funding. The uncertainty of regular funding and competing on an annual basis for Arts Council funding, latter which incurred considerable expense, affected the company significantly. Simultaneously, Whirligig started feeling the effects of the Education Reform Act, 1988, which decreed that education, including museum and theatre visits, had to be free. Theatres could therefore only ask parents for a voluntary contribution, which led to many tours and shows being cancelled. The years afterwards were marked by financial struggles and Whirligig did not manage their annual tour every year. However, 1999 marked a highlight, as The Gingerbread Man was invited to perform at the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, New York State. Eventually, Whirligig was closed during its 25th anniversary in 2003.
Two other significant projects were the adaptation of HRH Prince Charles' book The Old Man of Lochnagar and the adaptation of Dick King-Smith's book Babe, the Sheep-Pig, a co-production between Whirligig, Birmingham Hippodrome and the Library Theatre, Manchester, which was funded by the Arts Council and the Barclays Bank sponsorship scheme.
Other Whirligig shows are: Flibberty and the Penguin, The See-Saw Tree, Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish, Save the Human and Dreams of Anne Frank.
Other important Whirligig people are: theatre designer Susie Caulcutt, choreographer Sheila Falconer and musical supervisor Peter Pontzen.