Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Brightlights Theatre School
Loughborough Town Hall
22nd June 2023
‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ is one of those musicals where several generations of people start smiling upon hearing its name, as a huge wave of nostalgia washes over them. The 1968 film is pretty much loved by everyone (even if The Childcatcher did cause years of nightmares for us all), and its quirky characters and eccentric plot always made it a ripe candidate for a stage adaptation. This came along in 2002 in London’s West End, with a certain Mr Michael Ball and a very young Carrie Hope Fletcher behind the steering wheel. It’s since enjoyed numerous successful tours, and now it’s time for the theatre kids to take a stab at it, as Leicestershire-based theatre school group Brightlights show us what they’ve got once again.
Oddball inventor and single parent Caractacus Potts (played here by Benedict Gadd) tries to sell his latest invention (a whistling sweet) to save a beloved prize-winning racecar from being turned into scrap. Finally earning enough money, he buys the car, much to the delight of his children Jeremy (Henry Lansley) and Jemima (Darcy Peaty). Caractacus tells the children a story of an evil Baron (Josh Percival), who also has his eyes on the car, and sends two clueless henchmen (Francesca Elliott and Eloise Cockeram) to either steal the car or make Caractacus give it up. Our heroes find themselves with their grandfather captured in a strange foreign city where children are outlawed and caught by the evil Childcatcher (Jennifer Hamilton), and need to find a way to set everybody free. Luckily Chitty has a few nifty tricks in her engine.
‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ makes pretty much no sense but it doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s a fantasy, having a dreamlike-quality throughout it which stretches realism to breaking point and then runs even further with it. The story was adapted from the novel by Ian Fleming (of Bond fame), and the memorable music and lyrics come from the Sherman Brothers (famous for also composing the tunes for ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Bedknobs & Broomsticks’, among others). It’s not the best musical score even written, but it does the job, and gets more than enough mileage from just the title song alone.
Fresh from their successful production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ a couple of weeks ago, the Brightlights Theatre School have again delivered a fun and entertaining show. Again produced by Patrick Croft and Nick Sutcliffe (also Musical Director), and directed by Alex Turner, ‘Chitty’ has a large cast coping with a technically-heavy show, and delivering it confidently. The group only had one full technical dress rehearsal with all of the technical elements, and did themselves proud on opening night. The show has a great sense of fun and adventure, and younger audience members will love it. Choreography by Sophie Kandola is also excellent, particularly in “Me Ol’ Bamboo” and “Act English” with the henchmen delivering a routine straight out of Vaudeville. Chitty herself suffered from a little bit of opening night stagefright but the issues were soon sorted, and the effect was well worth it. This is also the first time a flying car has graced the Loughborough Town Hall stage in its long history, so it really is a lovely moment.
The leading performances are all very likeable, and Benedict Gadd (Caractacus) and Rosie Barber (Truly) lead the show well. They almost have the show stolen from them by Josh Percival and Yaroslava Loponova who make a great duo as the Baron and Baroness and really get into their characters. Francesca Elliott and Eloise Cockeram also stand out as henchmen Boris and Goran, having a lot of fun in playing the fools. And special mention has to go to Darcy Peaty and Henry Lansley as Pott’s children, who are absolutely brilliant and just nine years of age.
Brightlights have done really well here again. Although of course, the production isn’t about being “good”, it’s about letting these young people do something that they love, that clearly brings them real joy, and helps to develop them as performers and people. It’s a great initiative and we look forward to seeing what they give us next year.
‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ runs at the Loughborough Town Hall until Sunday 25th June 2023.
Performance runtime 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.