“visually charming “
**** 4 Stars
The Sherman Brothers, Robert and Richard, have a collection of musical films that have shaped the childhoods of generations. Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang, The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins have all made the transition from screen to stage. Now it’s the turn of the 1971 Disney Classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks to enchant theatre audiences.
Telling the story of Charlie (Connor O’Hara), Carrie (Izabella Buckoff) and Paul (Aiden Oti) Rawlins who at the height of the blitz in World War 2 London, are evacuated to Pepperinge Eye on the Dorset coast. Trainee Witch Eglantine Price (Dianne Pilkington) takes the children in. She is however one spell short of completing her correspondence course and achieving her ultimate aim of helping the war effort. Cue a sprinkling of magic and a flying bed and an adventure that takes them to London, the island of No Pe-po (people) and under the waves of the oceans on a magnificent journey of imagination.
This production has a tall order to achieve considering the original film blended live action with animation so well it’s the key thing that lingers in the memory and Directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison have utilized the most beautiful staging techniques to achieve a visually charming performance the leaps across the footlights.
The performances of the cast are strong but in Pilkington’s case feels a little misjudged. Taking the role of Eglantine, which is synonymous with the great Angela Lansbury, it’s a character that should have the kookiness and charm that sets her apart. Instead, especially in Act 1, Pilkington plays her as Mary Poppins and Gabriella Slade‘s costume design makes her look like Poppins too. However in act 2 Pilkington really opens the character up and brings the warm heart out but retaining that essential essence of magic that’s needed. Sharing the lead roles Charles Brunton brings spiv and polish to the role of Emelius Browne that makes him shine. The same is true of the children although Connor O’Hara in the role of Charlie is clearly far off the mark of 13 his performance still soars full of endeavour and zest.
The production elements are what make this production truly shine, Jamie Harrisons Set and Illusion design is faultless you really will believe beds can fly and inanimate objects like shoes, Shirts and suits of armour have a life all of their own its truly wonderful. This is further supported by Simon Wilkinson’s pure west end level lighting design and Gareth Fry’s sound design.
The animation moments are taken by Kenneth MacLeod’s stunning puppets that bring Bears, Birds and Lions to life it really works. Truly the production side of the show is to be applauded for pushing the boundaries of theatre making.
Musically classic numbers from the movie original such as “substitutiary locomotion” and the “beautiful briny” sparkle on stage and outshine the new songs by Neil Bartram all delivered by Musical Director Laura Bangay and her 12 piece pit orchestra.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a visually stunning piece of musical theatre, but the performance choices make it a darker piece overall and a real focus is needed to keep up with the flow of the plot. Younger children may not engage with it in the way they may the film.
For that being said this is a production of the highest quality and worthy of the ticket price and the blend of magic, spectacle and inventive theatre making, makes this a stellar evening of entertainment so grab those tickets and go bobbing along to the Festival Theatre.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Sunday 20th February, For tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/bedknobs-and-broomsticks