The iconic Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks has been adapted into a ‘magical musical’ with additional songs from Neil Bartram, and a new book by Brian Hill. Adapting a beloved film for the stage can be risky, but Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison navigate the challenges with some flair and ingenuity. Harrison’s clever design references the original film’s animations, which also influence Gabriella Slade’s costume designs and Sam Cox’s hair and wig work.
The opening sequence cleverly situates the piece in London during the Blitz as the Rawlins’ children’s world explodes. Following a bomb blast their bedroom shatters, its fractured parts framing the stage providing a constant reminder of the reality of war. There is some clever theatrical magic as we see the Rawlins’ children evacuated to the country in a slick (but perhaps overlong) sequence from choreographer and movement director Neil Bettles.
This magic continues as Diane Pilkington’s Eglantine Price enters the story and the audience are introduced to the character’s memorable motorbike – here created by the show’s excellent ensemble. The use of the ensemble to move set and props ensures that the flying broomsticks and bedknobs of the title are all the more magical. It is hard to see what makes them fly as they float through arches and over painted clouds. And one of the best exchanges in the show as Charles Brunton’s Emelius Browne enquires whether the bed is a safe vehicle, to which Eglantine responds that it’s ‘theatrical but quite safe’.
Pilkington adeptly steps into Angela Lansbury’s shoes, but the true stars of this production are the ensemble. They breathe life into Mary Norton’s quirky characters demonstrating their versatility as they shift from puppetry to kick lines. There isn’t a weak link amongst them, but Rob Madge deserves a special mention. The geriatric millennials amongst us, who discovered TikTok during the pandemic, may recognise Madge from the childhood home videos of them recreating Disney parades which they shared on social media. Their turn as Norton, a fish, in the ‘The Beautiful Briny’ is delightful and the interplay between the ensemble as dancing fish in the Beautiful Briny Ballroom is incredibly entertaining (Nathanial Morrison was relishing his fish choreography on the night we were there).
The production was being BSL interpreted by Anna Francis who did an excellent job, commanding her portion of the stage and conveying speedy lyrics with ease. Such was Francis’ presence that at times you wanted her to step into the action and move things along in the moments where things started to drag. And this is the issue with the show, an imbalance between the extraordinary staging and ordinary writing. The end result is an entertaining evening that bobs along nicely, ‘shimmering shiny’, that could do to rid itself of a little more of the flotsam it is yet to unload.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks must fly out of the Grand on Saturday 9th April, book for the remaining performances at https://www.grandtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/bedknobs-broomsticks/
Reviewer: Clare Chandler
Reviewed: 6th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★