The film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was launched in 1968 and became a huge family favourite across the world. As a twelve year-old I fell hopelessly in love with Sally Ann Howes who played the perfectly beautiful Truly Scrumptious. Around this time our family went to Butlins Holiday Camp on the East Coast (Ingoldmells, near to Skegness). Despite it being the summertime it rained most days and on one of those days me and my step-sisters were strongly encouraged to go into the small Butlins’ cinema to shelter from a miserable downpour and to take in a film whilst my parents privately ‘played cards’ in the chalet. That film was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We loved it as kids. We loved it so much that we sat and watched it three and a half times until we were unwillingly dragged out into the daylight by our parents who’d begun to wonder where we were. It may have been the very first time I binge watched something worth watching. Afterwards I was forever smitten by the beguiling and heavenly Truly and desperate for a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang model car for Christmas. I got the model car. Sally Ann Howes was unavailable as a little too mature girl friend. That was rather a long time ago boys and girls and here I am sat in the Nottingham Theatre Royal dress circle on row B, a few (ahem) decades older and ready to thrill at seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang live on stage by the fabulous Nottingham Operatic Society. Here’s hoping it will truly be a fantasmorgorically scrumptious theatrical affair.
And it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The fabulous sets are all one might expect from a show that may be listed as amateur but is as polished and professional as those historically put on by Nottingham Operatic Society. One can only be impressed by their super high standard productions. The costumes are a wonderful mix of Edwardian splendour and colourful eccentricity as befits the multitude of characters in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Everything visual enhances the piece but never competes for attention nor takes attention away from the top class acting, comedy, singing and choreography. There have been a few instances on social media where cast members, creatives, organisers and friends of Nottingham Operatic Society have mentioned the hard work and joys of being a member of the society. The warmth and friendship alluded to in such declarations comes across in palpable emotional waves when they present a show on stage. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a great example of this precious comradeship. As an audience member you just know when the cast are living their best lives on stage. It gives you the biggest inner smile.
This production will be performed eight times over a week which means a decision has been made to double up on some of the principals. There is a yellow team and a red team and this review is based on the yellow team that are performing the very first live show on the Wednesday matinee (25th October).
Jeremy Potts and Jemima Potts are charmingly played and sung by Freddie Vokes and Daisy Hamilton. Their inventor dad Caractacus Potts is performed with oodles of charm, vocal warmth and dexterous physical vigour by Mark Coffey- Bainbridge and Truly Scrumptious (sigh) is given an unexpected spunky motorbike riding personality that relaxes and warms in the glow of potential love by the very talented Louise Grantham. Or maybe my gossamer thin filmic memories of Truly Scrumptious are blinkered.
There is plenty to amuse in this musical theatre piece and much of the ‘Vulgarian’ funnies are supplied with quasi- naturalistic performances by Linda Croston (Goran), herself the mistress of the comic aside and dry pithy delivery in cod Germanic accent and Nathan Curzon (Boris) the adroit master of subtle camp comedy delightfully dressed up in a silly accent. They both light up the stage whenever they appear.
Although they don’t come properly into their theatrical own until the second act Simon Theobold (Baron Bomburst) and Kate Williams (Baroness Bomburst) are an utter delight to see and hear play off each other. The well known Chu Chi Face song has been seriously sexed up since I last saw it on film and their rendition is fine tuned hilarity itself as is their daft relationship based on spitefully abusing and playing with toys and a lack of real children in their lives.
Did I mention children?! Anyone coming to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang must be aware of the creepy Child Catcher with his evil child sniffing pointy nose, Gothic choice of attire and huge child catching net. James Ellison nails the part of the Child Catcher magnificently and even without a signature song he embeds himself into the piece terrifically well. Robert Helpmann (The scary Child Catcher in the film) eat your heart out. The kids in the castle catacombs are convincing in their sombre costumery and universally brilliant in the song and dance ‘Teamwork’ piece. Am I seeing a distinct connection to Les Misérables’ ‘One Day More’ in the choreography and symbolic flag waving?
The show is chock full of memorable songs like ‘The Roses of Success’, ‘Lovely, Lonely Man’, ‘You Two’, ‘Hushabye Mountain’, ‘Me Ol’ Bamboo’, ‘Posh’, and the unforgettable ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and the ensemble music and singing gets all the audience clapping along with the Entr’acte and curtain call finale. The perhaps unsung ensemble are utterly faultless throughout and make this decidedly magical amateur musical theatre production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Nottingham Theatre Royal so extra special. Breath-taking on stage depictions of a flying car? What flying car?
If you get the chance Nottingham Operatic Society’s rambunctious Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it is a dead cert in the listing of shows to see in Nottingham right now. There ain’t many tickets left so get booking! You might even (spoiler alert) see a car fly! And if you plan to see it twice there are two casts to enjoy.
The Nottingham Operatic Society production is directed by Andrew Miller, choreographed by Justine Lee with Musical Direction by Gareth Wynne. Production photos credit Gavin Mawditt.