Theater review: Bed buttons and broom handles


From an era that gave us Mary Poppins and Oliver, Bedknobs and brooms adapts well enough to the brief.

Ticking the boxes with London Tahn, Cheeky Cockneys and a strong, spirited woman, then why wasn’t the original Disney film, now transported to the stage at Nottingham’s Theater Royal, not so popular?

Maybe because of the lack of known musical numbers? Fortunately, this new imagination is full of them.

Ok so maybe do that future well-known musical numbers, as this production is pretty much brand new, only premiering in August of this year.

If you are not familiar with the story, it is based on the books The Magic Bedknob (1943) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947). In short, the plot sees three children evacuated during the Blitz and placed in the care of a certain Miss Eglantine Price, who learns witchcraft at a correspondence school in hopes of using her spells in the war effort. British against the Nazis. The story then follows their adventures to find the spell that makes it all happen.

That’s as much of the plot I’m going to give, that and the fact that there are some changes between this new production and the original screenplay, with an unexpected little twist of an ending.

Dianne Pilkington stars as our heroine, Miss Price, a slightly more sassy portrayal of the aspiring witch than the movie version played by Angela Lansbury (yes, that of Murder She Wrote). Pilkington has had an impressive career in musical theater and it shows in both her voice and her acting abilities. With a CV like hers, it’s a shame she doesn’t have a big number as such.

That said, there are plenty of musical numbers, with new material from Neil Bartram intertwined with the originals of the Sherman Brothers, all in the style of the latter. The brothers wrote scores for films including Chitty chitty bang bang, The jungle Book and of course Mary poppins, which is why at some point any of the numbers could easily turn into “A Spoonful of Sugar” and we have an almost unpronounceable number called “Substitute Locomotion”. Just to be done though, a catchy new number has been added called “Negotiation”.

In many ways, this production surpasses that of Disney and is destined to establish itself as a classic musical. The set is simple yet amazing, in fact, it’s almost as magical as some of the tricks and illusions in the show and so brilliant that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching in technicolor. There’s a refreshing absence of CGI, instead relying on good old-fashioned puppetry and talent to transport you to a world of fantasy. The actors move at breakneck speed around the stopped pieces to keep everything running smoothly. How they don’t collide is another magical feat. There are many talented actors taking on several small roles, but special mention must be given to the young children, played tonight by Evie Lightman and Jasper Hawes, who are real little stars.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if everything is comfortably familiar. You’ll find yourself humming it on the way home, maybe you’ll even do an overhead kick, and you know what, if it makes you feel good for a few hours then it worked, this is the Disney magic, and lord knows we all need a little bit of that right now.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at the Theater Royal Nottingham until October 10, 2021.


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