Original Music and Lyrics: The Sherman Brothers
New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics: Neil Bartram
Book: Brian Hill
Directors: Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison
It is one of those films we think we know, isn’t it? Usually on the television in the background during the festive period, we have all bobbed along on the beautiful briny sea with Angela Lansbury. Released in 1971 it was a technical visual treat coupled with catchy tunes from The Sherman Brothers, fresh from writing Mary Poppins. This new stage version of the beloved film stops in Leeds for a festive residency as part of its UK and Ireland tour.
Evacuee orphan siblings Charles, Carrie and Paul Rawlins arrive at the countryside from war torn London. Damaged and grieving they are entrusted into the care of the curious Miss Evangeline Price (Dianne Pilkington) who, it is discovered after receiving her first broomstick, is an apprentice witch. Roping in the help of the children her quest is to discover the enigmatic missing spell called Substitutionary Locomotion that will bring to life inanimate objects. Their quest on the magical flying bed takes them to meet the eccentric magician Emelius Browne (Charles Brunton), searching for the missing half book at Portobello Road, an underwater dance contest amongst the fishes, almost being eaten for dinner by the lion ruler King Leonidas of mythical land Nepeepo, before returning back to the countryside in time to defend Blighty from Nazi invaders by bringing to life the contents of the local military museum. As in the film, the plot lurches into the surreal and ridiculous as fantasy and magic intertwine.
This is a truly magical show for all the family. It is visually stunning. The choreography of set, magic trickery, lighting and costume design makes this a production that exudes quality. Each scene is so packed and such a treat for the eyes you don’t want to blink for fear of missing out. Much of the credit must lay with co-director and set and illusion designer Jamie Harrison. Responsible for the magic and illusion in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the wizardry in this show is stunning. Characters are transformed into rabbits, inanimate objects move, a bed glides and Miss Price rides her untamed broomstick. The audience are left scratching their heads as to how all of this can be achieved. But it isn’t just the tricks that inject ‘magic’ into the show. The visual storytelling is exquisite. Director Candice Edmunds employs an impressive range of theatrical devices to transform the stage with charming alacrity and ingenuity. Testament to this is the wordless opening sequence as the children leave London and arrive via a train journey at the countryside. The large ensemble cast manipulate set and props throughout the production as we are transported from place to place. The detail is tremendous and the technical specificity a wonder – a lesson in how scene changes should never be boring!
In the main role Dianne Pilkington is magnificent as Eglantine Price. Literally balancing astride a magical and unruly flying broom she has she delivers A Step in the Right Direction with wit and technical proficiency. Eccentric magician Emelius Browne (Charles Brunton) bursts onto the stage with Emelius the Great with incredible energy and a magic trick every few seconds. Later, during The Beautiful Briny, we see their love for each other begin to bloom that becomes a focus point of the second half. We are asked to suspend our disbelief a little as Conor O’Hara takes on the role of thirteen-year-old eldest sibling Charles Rawlins – a step perhaps a little too far for a young actor to play given how integral his performance is to the show. O’Hara has enormous energy whizzing around the stage with several reprisals of Negotiality. Completing the main cast are a company of young actors playing Carrie and Paul Rawlins. Remaining onstage for the majority and in a show with such technical precision this is an impressive achievement for the young company.
The Sherman Brothers provided the toe-tapping score fifty years ago. Neil Bartram additions meld seamlessly into what was created for the film. It would take an expert to dissect what was written for the original to what has been created for this stage adaptation. Bedknobs and Broomsticks should have a long life onstage. It is a shame the show has been having difficulties with the mechanics behind the magic of making the bed ‘fly’ but this aside it is a show that will undoubtedly continue beyond its current tour. It is truly a piece of magical theatre on many levels.
Runs until 2nd January 2022