Bedknobs and Broomsticks arrives in Manchester this week, the first of a trilogy of Disney productions to play at the Palace Theatre with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King arriving in the next 12 months.
Tonight’s show was truly a lesson in visual artistry with scene after scene making you question if your eyes really saw that? Countless illusions including a flying bed and fully functioning broomstick take centre stage alongside glorious puppets all illuminated by a stunning lighting design all knitted together with slick direction from Candice Edmunds.
The shows website says “When the three orphaned Rawlins children are reluctantly evacuated from wartime London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, they have no idea what adventures lie ahead. Upon discovering Eglantine to be a trainee witch, they join forces to search for a secret spell that will defeat the enemy once and for all. Armed with an enchanted bedknob, a bewitched broomstick and a magical flying bed, they encounter surprising new friendships on their journey from Portobello Road to the depths of the beautiful briny sea.”
Dianne Pilkington leads a hugely talented cast as Miss Eglantine Price who is on stage virtually the whole night bringing her extensive musical theatre experience to the role. Channelling Mary Poppins at times Pilkington is faultless from start to finish.
The three children, Charles (Conor O’Hara – making his professional debut), Paul (Jasper Hawes) and Carrie (Evie Lightman) are a tight team on stage working exceedingly well together and all vocally strong.
Charles Brunton as the initially useless magician Emelius Browne blossoms as the show goes on as both the audience and those on stage grow to love him and never puts a foot wrong and with some of the best lines of the evening.
The ensemble double up as puppeteers and stage hands in tightly choreographed sequences taking us from location to location seamlessly. The opening sequence, over 5 minutes long took us from London to the country during a blitz without a word being spoken and only relying on the sumptuous score from The Sherman Brothers which the huge 12-piece orchestra plays with ease under the direction of Laura Bangay.
If this show transfers to the West End after this World Premiere UK Tour, there will be 2 names alongside director Candice Edmunds very high up in the awards nominations, unseen, but pivotal to this production. Firstly, Jamie Harrison whose illusions leave your jaw firmly stuck to the floor. Using both new and age-old techniques this is some of the slickest magic I have seen in a touring production for a very long time. Secondly, lighting designer Simon Wilkinson draws you into the strange world of Bedknobs and Broomsticks with some stunning effects. His extensive experience showing with every beam of light.
My only gripe, on what is otherwise a stunning piece of theatre, is that the first half seems lacking in pace. Following the first five minutes which nips along the book stumbles through the rest of the story. If it wasn’t for the illusions throughout, younger audience members especially could easily lose concentration. The second half picks up pace somewhat despite the rather understated ending.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a fun and visually stunning piece of theatre that will leave you walking out of the auditorium asking “how did they do that?”.
The show continues until Sunday 24th October at the Palace Theatre in Manchester with tickets available at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/bedknobs-and-broomsticks/palace-theatre-manchester/ and returns next year landing at the Lowry from the 15th – 19th March 2022 and tickets available at https://thelowry.com/whats-on/bedknobs-and-broomsticks/
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 20th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★