Friday, February 23

Bedknobs and Broomsticks – The Alexandra, Birmingham

What a lot of scenery! If you like scenery this is the show for you! Acres it, yards of it flash by one after another – flat trees, flat doors, flat clouds, flat waves all causing this reviewer to wonder how they manage to store it all in the wings rather than consider the show. There really was a lot it…

“Bedknobs and Broomsticks” is almost a Disney classic or if you work for Disney it’s a classic. It’s one step below “Mary Poppins” but quite a number of steps above “The Fox and the Hound” adapted from the novels by Mary Norton (who despite having invented the whole thing doesn’t seem warrant a credit in the programme…) and, of course, from the movie with Angela Lansbury. And like all good movies it moves and this stage adaptation from Michael Harrison attempts to move with the same vim and verve in fact they never stop. They’ve on bikes, climbing stairs, on broomsticks adding a swirling dizziness to proceedings as scenery swoops in and out within seconds with actors vying to be noticed amid all the traffic.

Unlike the stage version of “Mary Poppins” where effects and story are married precisely to the aesthetic embellishing and enhancing the tale, “Bedknobs” presents us with an endless litany of tricks, effects and misdirection which imitate spectacle rather than present spectacle. Some effects are a delight, some seem muted or mishandled. It’s not so long ago we saw “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang” with a car which could levitate, twist, and undulate before our very eyes so a bed lifting four or five feet off the ground and staying there is not going to inspire much awe in the audience.

Credit: Johan Persson

Conor O’Hara provides an energetic Charlie Rawlins, Charles Brunton as the fake magician Emelius Browne is engagingly eccentric. The ensemble delivers innumerable roles (especially noteworthy being Rob Madge as Norton the fish) and are lumbered with carrying lots of scenery (did I mention the scenery?).

Its heart is in the right place and despite these niggles (why did some puppets mouths open when they spoke, and some didn’t?) it is a very engaging piece of entertainment which needs to take its own advice and believe in itself. If this was a try out for the West End, there’s still a number of things needing tweaking and revising and smoothing out. As a simple night out it’s great, but what resonated most and stood out like a beacon amongst the fuss and flurry of activity was the simple, still, gentle and engaging moment Dianne Pilkington sang “Age of Not Believing” with such clarity and truth which no effect or scenery could ever equal. That was the real magic. And if the rest of the show could emulate that then it’s a show worthy of the West End, but all in all they just missed a trick.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks continues at The Alexandra until 14th November

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 11th November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★