Writer: P L Travers
Book: Julian Fellowes
Original Music and Lyrics: Richard M Sherman & Robert B Sherman
New Songs and additional music: George Stiles & Andrew Drewe
Director: Richard Eyre
Reviewer: Emily Garside
It’s 10 years (to the day in fact) since Mary Poppins flew into the West End, and out on tour it’s still a ‘Jolly Holiday’ with Mary. The stage adaptation of the classic Disney film is just as magical.
Mary Poppins retains a lot of its British roots on stage, with a British Creative team, featuring the very best of composers, choreography and set design. All of which come together to create the magical world of Mary. Key in fact to adapting the musical to the stage are these alterations to the known film version. Firstly, with a script by that now stalwart of period British drama, Julian Fellows, which draws directly on PR Travers original story, rather than the Disney script. The result is a more rounded set of characters and backstory for the Banks family, as well as witty dialogue. Meanwhile, the familiar film music was given a lift by a variety of new music by British composing duo Stiles and Drewe. Joining the classics Feed the Birds and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious are the catchy Practically Perfect the dark Temper Temper and a moving solo number for Mrs Banks (Rebecca Lock) Being Mrs Banks.
On stage then Mary Poppins has its roots in the familiar with an added twist. None of the performances remain wedded to the film either. And the same goes for Zizi Strallen’s take on the ‘Practically Perfect’ Nanny herself. And it’s not an exaggeration to suggest she is indeed practically perfect in the role. She is Mary Poppins without mimicking her most famous predecessor, Strallen’s suggests a slightly unpredictable Mary with a darker edge from whom, as the song suggests Anything Can Happen around. Of course, Strallen’s singing and dancing ability are also of the highest calibre.
Joining Strallen in demonstrating the true triple threat of singer dancer and actor is Matt Lee as Bert. Capturing the Cheeky Cockney element of Bert and delivering some genuinely funny moments, alongside a touching clear care for his unrequited love in Mary, and affection for the children, Bert is an often-underappreciated acting role in which Lee delivers. Like Strallen, his voice is more than a match for the score and his duet Chim Chee Cher-ee with her is a musical highlight. It is in dancing that Lee truly excels, and the astounding Step in Time where he really gets to showcase his tap abilities.
The choreography and set are without a doubt the other stars of the show. Set and costume by Bob Crowley are highlights of the show. From the set of the Banks’ house, which keeps unfolding and revealing more rooms and secrets, to sweeping London backdrops that change to magical parks, the set itself is a feast for the eyes and imagination. Added to this are some spectacular theatrical effects, from Mary’s first appearance to her breath-taking departure. And although the wires (literally) show on some of the effects, seeing what is achieved in front of your eyes in live theatre, represents theatrical magic at it’s very best – so much so it would be remiss to spoil any of the magic by describing them, but there are many a gasp-aloud moment across the performance.
Also, gasp-inducing is the choreography. Matthew Bourne reminding us why he’s not just a master of his own company’s contemporary ballet, but also has a rare masterful understanding of what makes great musical theatre choreography. It’s something special that brings both intricate and exciting dance moves that also really fit with the story; Bourne’s choreography really masters this. Only he really could have come up with the intricate and precise moves to spell Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious alongside the sweeping tap number that is Step in Time. The ensemble really rises to the challenge and demonstrates also what a really strong ensemble brings to a musical.
It’s difficult to find fault with what really is an almost perfect piece of musical theatre, and a piece that does in fact subtly update and improve on the film version – delivering something fresh and new that is a true stage version, rather than a film placed on a stage.
The musical and alteration to the story might leave fans of the film initially a little disappointed, but the stage version weaves so much of its own magic, that it is difficult not to be won over. This is a refreshing update on a classic film, which still looks both fresh and innovative on stage 10 years after its original production.
Runs until 14 January 2018 | Image: Johan Persson