Mayflower Theatre, Southampton – until 21 February 2016
Guest reviewer: Carl Woodward
The stage version of the iconic 1968 British film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is not awful. Much-loved songs by the Sherman Brothers and the sensational sets coupled with stunning special effects make for an entertaining experience. Oh, and there is a flying car.
The whole thing is efficiently directed by James Brining, Simon Higlett’s design evokes the charm of the original film and some of the acting is good. Special mention to Simon Wainwright’s innovative video designs that graphically recreate the high seas escape.
The wheels start to come off the stage vehicle once the frankly terrible Michelle Collins and Phill Jupitus appear as Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Their relentless jokes and hammy performances strain for any laugh. Chitty’s biggest frustration is the pace of the stage vehicle: just revving up seems to take 50 minutes and when it does it sounds like a volcanic eruption, and then it goes on a bit. A sluggish first act crawls at the speed of peristalsis before we finally get to see the car fly and the final result is a musical that has plenty of motorised competence but very little feeling.
The best performance comes from Jason Manford as Caractacus Potts, who provides the show with what it mostly lacks: heart and soul. There is, however, laughter to be had from Vulgarian spies Sam Harrison as Boris and Scott Page as Goran. Their physical comedy is well timed and genuinely entertaining. The biggest disappointment in a tough competition was Martin Kemp as the not-so sinister Childcatcher: his performance is top-to-bottom rubbish in terms of characterisation and villainy.
The second act is a fiasco: a sloppy samba section and reprise that runs like a Ford KA and corners like a Reliant Robin. The car flying is quite something but Manford saunters in and out of the vehicle as if he’d driven a milk float.
It’s a well-worn truth that old movies rarely make good musicals. Let’s hope we come across again someday a new musical based on an original idea. The five year old in front of me seemed to be enjoying himself.
Not great, not awful. Good at times in fact. I admire Chitty’s temperament. Maybe we could all learn from Chitty.
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