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: Holly Spanner
Cameron Mackintosh negotiated the rights to develop Pamela Travers beloved books for the stage in 1993, but it wasn’t until more than a decade later in 2004 that Mary Poppins had its world premiere at the Bristol Hippodrome. The musical is currently touring the UK before heading to Zürich in February 2017.
This is not the Mary Poppins we know from the 1964 Disney film, think of it as familiar, yet quite different. It features elements from Travers’ original books not seen in the film, and gone is Sister Suffragette, Mrs Banks now a former actress struggling to live up to her husband’s expectations, Stay Awake, The Life I lead, I Love to Laugh and Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. They are replaced instead by a host of new songs and additional music written by George Stiles and Andrew Drewe to complement the original stories and characters, including the introduction of Miss Andrew (The Holy Terror!), George Banks’ childhood nanny, and the polar opposite of Mary.
Following in the footsteps of her sister Scarlett, Zizi Strallen in the title role is mischievous, cheeky and just a little bit of a flirt. She has top notch dance moves and the best exit stage right you’re ever likely to see from a lead. She is the embodiment of self-belief and lives up to her own adage that anything can happen if you let it. The overworked and stressed housemaid, Mrs Brill, has some of the biggest laughs in the show and is handled wonderfully by Wendy Ferguson.
The set appears deceptively simple, clean cut and elegant, but it is truly an engineering masterpiece. Scenic designer Bob Crawley has created something reminiscent of a cross between a giant Edwardian dolls house and pop-up book; folding out from itself to reveal magical staircases, Mrs Brill’s kitchen, and Corry’s magical sweet shop. From the dull, muted, grey-scale tones of the bank (and its workers) with impressive use of perspective, to the fantastic world of Mary Poppins, bringing colour and vibrancy to everything she touches, the use of colour throughout is splendid. There are charcoal-esque designs to create trees in the park, as though they were drawn by Bert himself, and it is little wonder that it takes 18 trailers to move the set. And yes, the carpet bag is every bit as wonderful as you could hope for. Lighting Designer Natasha Katz brings Mary’s world to life, dousing the audience with a healthy helping of enchantment and sparkle.
Dance is the medium used to transport us to Mary’s magical world outside of Cherry Tree Lane, and Choreographer Matthew Bourne, well known for his lavish ballets, has created some incredible dance routines. The fantasy ensemble sequence for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is bright, dreamlike and nostalgic at the same time. A wide range of choreography is used by the talented ensemble, the dance routines exuberant, and there is a mesmerising tap routine on the rooftops of London (and the roof of the proscenium arch) for Step in Time.
Every child knows their favourite toy is really alive, so how do you think the toys would they feel if they were ripped apart? Playing the Game at the end of Act I is just the right side of scary for little ones (though perhaps not for the very young), as Mary teaches Jane and Michael to play nicely, treat things with respect and to learn the value of their toys. Poignant in places, the musical contains life lessons behind the glamour (for not just children), including a reminder that we should never judge someone by their appearance, bank account or job.
As the only Yorkshire date on the tour, Mary Poppins is a fantastic way to beat the onset of the winter blues. A family friendly explosion of colour with incredible dance routines and full of surprises, the musical runs at The Alhambra until 10 December 2016, so grab those tickets before the wind changes and they fly away.
Runs until 10 December 2016 then touring nationwide | Image: Johan Persson