First, we had the spectacles that are The Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Mary Poppins and now there is a new contender to the crown with more magical illusions than you can shake a magic wand at! From the very opening sequence we are inundated with illusion and magic from Illusion Designer Jamie Harrison and it doesn’t let up for one moment. The children in the audience gasp and the technically minded amongst us try to work out how it was done. From flying broomsticks to beds, magical moving clothing to magical magician’s tricks. Then there is Kenneth MacLeod’s puppets of mighty lions to neon fish and rabbits to ostriches, this production is nonstop wonderment with a sense of humour and more than a dash of panache!
The 1971 Disney film classic staring Angela Lansbury with music by the Sherman Brothers is transformed and the book reworked by Brian Hill with additional songs, music and lyric by Neil Bartram. Choreography by Neil Bettles and Direction by Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds. As the scrim is lifted, we are confronted by the bedroom of the children as the London blitz tears apart their home leaving on stage the remains of their house to frame the rest of the show and remind us of the emotional context of the children’s journey as evacuees. The sequence from this point to their meeting of apprentice witch Miss Eglantine Price, is nothing short of epic, the ensemble have nothing but my admiration with the hundreds of entrances and exits with hundreds of puppets, props and scenery, quite astounding and thrillingly imaginative. Miss Price played with aplomb by the talented Dianne Pilkington has total command in role being whimsical yet wholesome and never once did I compare her to Dame Angela Lansbury, this was a unique Miss Price who fully embodied the character anew. Pilkington’s vocal as always was a delight to hear and not a word was missed with her exquisite diction.
On the evening I saw the production Emelius Browne was played by Sam Lupton and except for a couple of fumbles with hand illusion tricks in his first musical number, he quickly took control of the character and the audience unanimously warmed to him. The three Rawling children were delightful and lead by Conor O’Hara as the 13-year-old Charlie, it was his number ‘Negotiality’, as a new musical addition that fitted most perfectly with the eccentricity of the original score.
Portobello Road was my personal favourite number, with intensity and style from choreography and costume design, I found this bewitching and fully engaging. Sing-a-long numbers such as The Beautiful Briny were well handled and brought to life with superb lighting design by Simon Wilkinson as well as the flying bed and puppets. It was very evident that lots of work had gone into the choreography of the puppeteer ensemble to make their movements as representational of the animal they portrayed as possible. The glorious costuming by Gabriella Slade is worth a special mention from tweed to shimmer and sparkle, it is simply glorious, authentic yet glamourous and the costumes of the puppeteers are genius!
I need to mention the plot twist at the end that is different from the film, but no spoilers here! I loved it and thought it added a whole new dimension to the story for a new millennium and the new looming dangers we face today.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a technical marvel and is at the Sheffield Lyceum until 30th October 2021, it is worth every penny of the ticket price, an enormous touring production… Don’t miss the mystically, mischievous magic, beautiful family entertainment that will capture every generation. It’s a big Wow! from me. https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/bedknobs-and-broomsticks
Reviewer: Tracey Bell
Reviewed: 29th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★