Touring – reviewed at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
The famous car is big, gleaming and flies just as it should in the new production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre until Oct 15, but the surrounding musical has a much more homely feel to it.
More than that, in this re-imagined production there is a strong use of big dance numbers and bold staging – where previously there has been a reliance on bold colours and big design. It also makes the setting in 1919 of Ian Fleming’s original story much more obvious.
That homely feel is largely down to Jason Manford’s portrayal of Caractacus Potts, the down-at-heel widowed inventor who is emotionally blackmailed by his cute kids into buying the burned out wreck of a racing car and taking it back to their windmill home on England’s South Downs.
Those kids – Jemima and Jeremy (played by Caitlin Surtees and Hayden Goldberg on press night) – add positivity to the production. Cute without being saccharin, they bring a great dynamic, driving the story (as well as the car) and giving solid account of themselves on the singing front.
Gentle of character, Manford doesn’t take Potts off into zany territory (there is plenty of that elsewhere in the production). Even when he tries to earn a few bob with his fantastical hair-cutting machine, there is more the sense that he is bumbling into things, rather than throwing himself at them.
His singing voice just keeps on getting better and better, with a memorable take on Hushabye Mountain – although there are moments when his use of his operatic register could be a bit less forceful. And his movement is strong too, fitting in well with the hard-working dance troupe.
a real treat
But it is the relationship he builds with Charlotte Wakefield’s outwardly feisty Truly Scrumptious that dominates much of the feel of the show. It might be a shade understated, but in Caractacus and Truly they create two lonely people who find it difficult to express themselves.
The fine four-fendered friend in action.
Not that Wakefield has any problem expressing herself. She is a real treat to watch and listen to, with a satisfyingly rounded voice. Indeed, there are no signs in her vocal performance that she joined the company just this week.
Her Lovely Lonely Man is a true delight and her performance of Doll on a Box is quite mesmerising – she has a dancer’s control which really makes you believe that she is a living doll, while her vocal delivery is clarity itself. And when Manford joins in, the duet just hits the heights.
DirectorJames Brining of co-producers Yorkshire Playhouse, does an excellent job, in the overall framing of the show. He uses the opening scenes, with the friendly garage owner Coggins being forced to sell the destroyed racing car to a scary scrap-merchant, to foreshadow the second act, when the action moves to Vulgaria.
The foreshadowing is partly in the doubling up of parts. Phill Jupitus is all sneer as Lord Scrumptious, happy to deny Caracticus any time when he brings his fabulous Toot Sweets to his factory – returning with an overdose of panto villainy as the evil Baron Bomburst, ruler of Vulgaria who only wants to play with his toys.
pathological hatred of children
Claire Sweeney puts ice on her sneers as Miss Phillips, Lord Scrumptious’ secretary and then returns with twisted viciousness as Baroness Bombast. Her self-love is only equalled by her pathological hatred of children – and her desire to make the Baron look at her.
Ewan Cummings is benign friendliness as garage owner Coggins, returning as the Toymaker, the only friendly face in Vulgaria.
But it is in the Childcatcher that the production really excels. His shadow creeps down the set before, a pair of hands coming to grasp the audience. Jos Vantyler does the part justice, but it is in the framing of the character that this provides the scares – which makes for a thrill without being too frightening for the younger audience members.
The big innovation in this production is its use of video, projected across the back of the set. It really comes into its own when the flying happens – providing a solid optical stimulus to send the car high above Beachy Head. It allows for quick scene changes but isn’t always quite as it wants to be.
However this has so much going for it on the stage, that distracting back scenery can be quite forgiven. Choreographer Stephen Mear has excelled himself with the big dance routines – Me Ol’ Bamboo with Potts and the Bombie Samba with the Baroness are real high points and show a dance troupe of great distinction.
The comedy works well. If Jupitus is on form without having to go too far to find his character, Sam Harrison and Scott Paige do an excellent job as comedy spies Boris and Goran.
And in this time when fear of foreigners has re-emerged as a vicious tool in mainstream politics, this does at least point a finger and laugh with disdain at such vile ideas.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes (with one interval).
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Wednesday 5 – Sunday 16 October 2016
Evenings Tue – Sat: 7.30 pm
Matinees Thurs & Sat: 2.30pm; Sun 9: 1pm & 5pm; Sun 16: 1pm.
Tickets from: www.edtheatres.com
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on tour 2016/17:
5 – 16 Oct 2016
0131 529 6000
19 – 29 Oct 2016
0844 871 7648
9 – 19 Nov 2016
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645
6 Dec 2016 – 15 Dec 2017
0843 208 6000
25 Jan – 4 Feb 2017
0844 871 3012