“It’s time to start believing”…and I believe! I really do! You’ve heard the old adage, “the magic of the theatre” and tonight, this Curve experience is truly magical! As a child, the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks never quite hit the mark for me. Even though I loved the songs by the Sherman brothers, and can still sing and hum them to this day (Treguna…Mekoides…Trecorum Satis Dee), the movie didn’t quite hit the heights of, for example, Mary Poppins (another Sherman brothers offering). And now I know why…this story was made for the stage and, on the stage, this whole production is remarkable.
Set mainly in WW2 London, the Blitz provides the reason for the meeting of the three orphaned children, Charlie (Robin Simoes Da Silva), Carrie (Poppy Houghton) and Paul (Haydn Court), and apprentice witch, Eglantine Price (Emma Thornett). The search for five precious words takes the group, along with Professor Emelius Browne (Sam Lupton), to the magical Island of Nopeepoo and then back to face the fear-filled realities of Britain at war. The glitz and sparkle of the cerulean underwater ball are a stark contrast to the fiery, broken landscape of London.
The overall set design by Jamie Harrison absolutely brings the stage to life! In fact it turns reality to illusion and it is hard not to be distracted by the “how are they doing that?” moments. I will say no more so as to keep the illusions fresh for new audiences, but the flying bed provides some of the most visually stunning scenes that I have ever had the pleasure to see on a live stage; this theatrical feat is worthy of magic circle secrecy (unlike the rather paltry efforts of our excitable Professor Brown).The choreographed movement on the stage is incredible and it feels like there is constant motion. As your eye is drawn to one part of the stage, the other part changes and before you know it, in the blink of an eye, the stage has transformed!
For this reviewer, Portobello Road is a highlight. The carefully choreographed staging, the exact harmonies of the multitalented ensemble and the patchwork-steampunk costume design by Gabriella Slade all come together to create a recognisable although slightly unnerving London. The underwater ball is also worthy of mention as it provides comedy, visual pleasure and an opportunity for Thornett to display her vocal range. As Eglantine Price, the rather eccentric lady who is suddenly thrust into the role of matriarch, Thornett shines. Her initial clipped manner dissolves into a warmer, more maternal figure throughout the production and she is able to show this adjustment splendidly. The appreciative and well-deserved standing ovation at the end goes up a notch as Thornett walks out onto the stage – she really has enamoured herself to the audience tonight. And she FLIES on a broom – she REALLY does!
Lupton is also beloved of the audience. Browne has a childlike quality and despite the obstacles, he has hopes for a better future. “It’s Now” is a heartfelt number as the audience sees a different character to the one who originally sang “Emelius the Great”. His interactions with the children are natural, which adds to the likeability factor, and indeed the chemistry between Thornett and Lupton is palpable. It is worth noting that both are understudies and both are incredible! Definitely standing ovation worthy!
The children in the production are very well cast, and portray a togetherness, an unbreakable bond, as they learn to trust again following the deaths of their parents in the Blitz. Houghton has a wonderfully clear and strong voice, Court adds a naïve sweetness and Da Silva bounds around the stage with delight in the role of cheeky big brother who has a flair for “Negotiality”. He is also able to portray a more vulnerable side though in “The Age of Not Believing”.
The attention to detail by Director Candice Edmunds is delightful, and it is clear that this is a labour of love. As a beloved Disney film, Bedknobs and Broomsticks already has its fan base, and they won’t be disappointed – except perhaps at the omission of witch’s familiar Cosmic Creepers who could have made an appearance as a puppet, along with other creatures in the production. The puppetry is extremely well executed with the comedy of Norton the fish (Rob Madge) and ferocity of King Leonidas (Matthew Elliott-Campbell) being favourites with the audience.
At times, the production can feel a little repetitive which slows the pace and perhaps more could be done to fill these transitions, but overall this production manages to be faithful to the original, whilst adding a freshness. The well-loved tunes, “The Beautiful Briny” and “Substitutiary Locomotion” will definitely not disappoint and will be playing on a loop in this reviewer’s head for a while to come. The new songs by Neil Bartram fit so well with the Sherman originals that unless you know the musical well, you won’t know which are original and which are new.
This production is a nostalgic feast for the senses which offers fun and frolicks against a backdrop of fear, loss and hopelessness. It is warm-hearted and pure.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks will be flying high at Leicester’s Curve Theatre until Sunday 13 February. So why not bob along? Because, however old you are, you are at the age of believing…