Only a few weeks ago, and coincidental to being asked to review this show, I had a nostalgic watch of the 1968 film on which this show is based. While some reviews will give a full synopsis, most of us know the plot from hours of watching the film as both children and adults – I’m sure many of us still have nightmares thanks to the Child Catcher (played maleficently by Mike Shaw in the Garrick’s version). We were whisked away on this surprisingly mild October evening to Ian Fleming’s magical world, where frequently we would forget that cars can’t fly – the titular car received a round of applause on its first entrance.
With music by the Sherman Brothers, script by Jeremy Sams and first performed in 2002, the show has become a steadfast fixture on the amateur circuit and the Garrick’s cast and crew show us why. From the off, the cast was led strongly by Rhys Nuttall as Caractacus Potts and Natalie Hayes as the delectable Truly Scrumptious. There was strong chemistry between the two leads, with Jeremy and Jemima Potts played by Noah Charlton-Jones and Esmerelda Maleci, respectively, both utterly convincing and delightful throughout.
In addition to his excellent characterisation and vocals, Nuttall was exemplary in his execution of choreography, notably the section in Me ‘Ol Bamboo that is deliberately designed to be slightly out of time, before he seamlessly settled in with the rest on the dancers who wowed us with their stick-ography. He was also a joy to watch in the dance break of Toot Sweets – a wise decision by choreographer Louise Pettitt no doubt to further showcase his dancing and acrobatic ability. Hayes expertly deployed her beautifully clear voice throughout her dialogue and songs, with highlights including Lonely Lonely Man and Doll on a Music Box.
The children’s ensemble (this evening featured the Red Team) all have bright futures on the stage. Their choreography was tight in Teamwork and they brought much appreciated youthful exuberance in the finale with the overthrowing of the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, co-orchestrated by the quietly rebellious Toymaker played well by Jonathan Barker.
There was no shortage of comedy, with jokes landing well to raucous laughter. Ivor Farley showcased his expertise and trademark wit as the sometimes scatty but always charming Grandpa Potts, the camp Bomburst duo were played perfectly by Pete Brassington and Hannah Edwards, and the spies Boris and Goran (Matt Spilsbury and Alexander Day), delivered laughs and physical comedy at every turn.
The ensemble were vocally strong and showed off a large set of stunning costumes produced by Mike Shaw’s team. The Bombie Samba was a highlight, as were the Baroness’ over-the-top outfits throughout that wouldn’t look out of place on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Under the baton of Mark Goggins, the band was impeccable, and the sound was balanced well in the auditorium. The four colourful spotlights during the overture set up the visual treat that followed, perfectly complementing both costumes and scenery. A shoutout must be given to the backstage team for the smooth and efficient scene changes, no mean feat for this show.
Despite a couple of slow opening night microphone pick-ups that are to be expected, this was one of the strongest opening nights of a show I have seen in a long time. Director Joseph Meighan, and all the cast and crew should be very proud of what they have created.
Reviewer: Alexandra Severn
Reviewed: 23rd October 2023
North West End UK Rating: