Prince Edward Theatre – until 7 June 2020
Since she landed umbrella in hand, the mystical nanny Mary Poppins has been a much loved character. From the hit Disney film to a number of revivals and performances around the world, there’s something universally adored about the feel-good story of the Banks family, so it’s no surprise that the musical is once again gracing the West End.
It’s a musical full of sparkle, magic and wow factors but at times feels as though it’s on just for the sake of being on.
In this musical, co-created by Cameron Mackintosh, with additional songs by Stiles and Drewe and a book by Julian Fellowes, the moral aspect of the story is strongly highlighted, as are the darker sides of the original book.
The story of Mr Banks’ redemption and the importance of making the correct moral choices for those around you remains ever relevant but much of the secondary plot feels somewhat dated and not relevant for a modern audience. Of course this isn’t the making of a show, and with something like Mary Poppins it’s mostly about the nostalgia and feel-good-factor but for a show that runs almost three hours long, some tweaks to make it more engaging wouldn’t have gone amiss.
However, this is a show about compassion and the cast do a joyous job of bringing the story to life with energy, wonder and colour. Thanks in part to Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes which are structured, colourful and all around excellence. The house which opens like the pages of a pop-up book is magnificent each time it’s seen; and the plain park which becomes a psychedelic garden of amusement is completely brilliant. Sparkly costumes and beautifully tailored coats adorn the stage and evoke the joy from both the book and film well.
Stiles and Drewe’s songs are much darker and sharper than those we’ve grown up with, with ‘Playing the Game’ bringing toys to life as the stuff nightmares are made of. Elsewhere scenes are taken from book to stage effectively and interestingly. Overall the musical is a whole lot of sugar with a little bit of spice thrown in for good measure… just how Mary Poppins would like it I assume!
Richard Eyre has directed a show for adults and children which brims with surprise but at times lacks sufficient pace. However, the choreography by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear is sophisticated, sharp, witty and utterly first-rate. ‘Step in Time’ is a complete highlight as the stage comes to life with sweepers and leading man Charlie Stemp literally walks on the ceiling.
Stemp’s entire performance is a masterclass in stage presence. His continually fresh characterisation completely draws the audience in as he moves and speaks with a natural grace and charms everyone who witnesses him. Additionally his rapport with Strallen’s Mary is genuine and engaging. Zizi Strallen makes the famous nanny her own as she floats around the stage with a whimsical but grounded air and takes on the leading role excellently. Elsewhere Amy Griffiths is touching and vocally excellent as Mrs Banks and the entire ensemble give top notch performances.
Yes, this show is lacking at times but much of the time it’s a feast for the eyes and ears and is sure to be enjoyed by many so why not take a trip to see magical Mary float in on her brolly right in front of your eyes.
Mary Poppins is currently booking at the Prince Edward Theatre until 31st May 2020, tickets are available at www.londonboxoffice.co.uk
photo credit: Johan Persson