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TRCH David Suchet

Theatre Review: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

8 October 21 words: Taya Raybould

An all new Disney toe-tapping magical belter

From an era which gave us Mary Poppins and Oliver, Bedknobs and Broomsticks fits the brief quite nicely.

Ticking the boxes with London Tahn, Cheeky Cockneys and a feisty strong female, why then wasn’t the original Disney film, now transported to the stage at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, as popular?

Possibly down to the lack of known musical numbers? It’s fortunate then that this new imagining is full of em.

Ok, so maybe make that future known musical numbers, because this production is pretty much brand spanking new, only premiering in August this year.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it is based upon the books The Magic Bedknob (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947). In short, the plot sees three children evacuated during the Blitz and placed in the care of one Miss Eglantine Price, who, it transpires is learning witchcraft through a correspondence school with hopes of using her spells in the British war effort against the Nazi’s. The story then follows their adventures to find the spell which makes it all happen.

That’s as much of the plot as I’ll give away, that and the fact that there are a few changes between this new production and the original storyline, with an unexpected little twist of an ending.

Dianne Pilkington plays the role of our heroine, Miss Price, a somewhat sassier portrayal of the budding witch than the film version played by Angela Lansbury (yes, the one from Murder She Wrote). Pilkington has had an impressive career in musical theatre and that is evident in both her voice and acting ability. With a CV like hers, it’s a shame she doesn’t have a big show-stopping number as such.

That said, there are musical numbers aplenty, with new material from Neil Bartram interwoven with the originals by the Sherman Brothers, all in the style of the latter. The brothers wrote scores for films including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book and of course Mary Poppins, which explains why at any given moment, any of the numbers could easily morph into ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ and we have an almost unpronounceable number called ‘Substitutiary Locomotion’. Fair do’s though, a catchy new number has been added called ‘Negotiality’.

In many ways, this production outdisney’s Disney and is destined to establish itself as a classic musical. The set is simple yet incredible, in fact, it’s almost as magical as some of the show's tricks and illusions and so bright you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching in technicolour. There’s a refreshing absence of CGI, instead relying on good old puppetry and talent to transport you into a world of fantasy. The cast move around the set pieces at breakneck speed to make it all work like clockwork. How they don’t bump into each other is another feat of magic. Many of the all-round talented cast take on multiple small roles, but special mention must be given to the young children, played tonight by Evie Lightman and Jasper Hawes, who are proper little stars.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s all comfortably familiar. You’ll find yourself humming it on the way home, maybe you’ll even do an air kick, and you know what, if it made you feel good for a few hours then it worked it's Disney magic, and lordy knows we all need a bit of that at the moment.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at the Theatre Royal Nottingham until 10 October 2021.

https://trch.co.uk/

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