Monday, April 22

Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Disney first brought Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the silver screen back in 1971, starring the much-loved Angela Lansbury. With music from the legendary Sherman Brothers, it’s always quietly nestled itself amongst the firm family favourites. The announcement it was coming to the stage and its subsequent tour have sent the musical theatre world into a frenzy and it’s easy to see why.

Set amongst the bombs of WWII, three orphaned children find themselves sent to the south coast as evacuees where they are taken in by Eglantine Price, a trainee witch in correspondence with the elusive Emelius Browne. She’s got a witchy idea to defeat the Nazis with an incredible spell, but she and the children need help from Professor Emelius to seal the deal. The gang of travelers soon realize that in order to make the magic work they must travel across the country and to fantasy lands to put the plans in place. It’s bottomless well of imagination that really challenges the narrative arc. 

Credit: Johan Persson

From top to toe, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is fabulously wholesome and comes with a deliciously ‘homemade feeling’ created by directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison. This especially evident in the opening montage where the entire cast take the story from the cosy children’s bedroom to the stark museum where three orphaned evacuees bump into the amazing Miss Eglantine Price, their new guardian. Trains, cities, interior décor and underwater kingdoms magically appear, made out of card and paper and are all orchestrated with mastery from the ensemble. This spontaneity and creativity makes such as refreshing change from the seemingly polished and synthetic set transitions in many other touring productions. For Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it’s a magical pop up story book world that is far more transfixing than any swift set fly ins. Harrison’s work as set and Illusion designer, bolstered by the hardworking ensemble is worth the ticket price alone, never mind the rest of the production. There’s unbelievable stage magic, stunning puppetry and flying inanimate objects that stretch the capabilities of artistic craft. Together it all results in one stunning and luscious production.

The principals are casted perfectly. Diane Pilkington’s Eglantine Price is a fabulous alternative to the role made famous by Lansbury and at no point do we find ourselves pining for the 1971 Miss Price. The role is truly her own and we’re treating to a whole host of beautifully sung numbers, ‘The Age of Not Believing’. Accompanying Eglantine is Charles Brunton’s truly delightful Emelius Browne. Charles packs a punch with a hilarious physical performance which particularly shines during the undersea ballroom competition (yes, this storyline is nuts). Supporting this unlikely couple is Conor O’Hara as Charlie Rawlins who gives a memorable performance as the cheeky elder sibling. The role is his West-End debut though you’d never know it.  Tonight’s children are Izabella Bucknell and Aidan Oti as Carrie and Paul Rawlins. Both give commendable energetic performances keeping up the stamina all the way through – not an easy feat for children in this lengthy production. It would also be rude not to mention Rob Madge’s fish, Norton, who’s performance and puppetry is a visual treat.

With so much to cheer about, this production does fall short. Those who grew up adoring the film will feel cheated by Brian Hill’s ending. The rationale behind the change? Who knows? A lack of budget? Is it politically dubious? Does it seem farfetched for a 2022 audience? Was it taken from the books the production is based on? Who knows? And you’ll certainly feel cheated you dared to believe magic was possible…

Overall, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a high energy, sumptuous, fun-filled night out that’s guaranteed to delight all the family and soften even the hardest heart.

This production runs until Sunday 20th February,

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 17th February 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★