BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS
The Lowry, Salford Quays
Until Saturday 19th March 2022
Adapted from the classic 1971 Walt Disney film beloved by so many, Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison’s joyous production of Bedknobs and Broomsticks dazzles with innovation, theatricality and thrilling production designs.
During The Blitz, the newly orphaned Rawlins children are evacuated from wartime London to the remote coastal village of Pepperinge Eye, where they are soon placed in the reluctant care of the reclusive apprentice-witch, Miss Eglantine Price. Eglantine hopes to use her magic to cast a spell to animate inanimate objects (“Substitutiary Locomotion”) and help stop the German invasion of Britain, though the spell she requires is missing.
Armed with an enchanted bedknob and a magical flying bed, and accompanied by the eccentric magician and con artist ‘Professor’ (Mr.) Emelius Browne, the newly formed quintet set off on a surreal and fantastical quest to find the missing spell book, one that takes them from a remote Dorset village to Portobello Road market, an underwater dance contest at the bottom of “The Beautiful Briny” sea (replacing the famous football match from the film and featuring some brilliant piscine puppetry!) and then face-to-face with the ferocious King Leonidas in the mythical land of Nopeepo (changed from ‘Naboombu’ in the film).
The ever wonderful Dianne Pilkington is on top form as Eglantine (played in the film by Angela Lansbury) and once again proves why she is one of our very finest musical theatre stars. It is an effortless performance in a technical and ultimately very challenging role and she is a joy to watch in everything she does.
In contrast to David Tomlinson’s rather understated performance as Emelius in the film, Charles Brunton’s portrayal is frenetic and high on energy. Brunton and Pilkington work very well together and he injects a good dose of fun and mischief into the role. It is no surprise whatsoever to learn that Brunton covered and played Miss Trunchbull in both the West End and Broadway productions of Matilda as more than a hint of Agatha comes through here.
Conor O’Hara looks a little out of place as the 13-year old eldest Rawlins sibling Charlie, particularly when the two other siblings, Carrie and Paul, are played by four different sets of children who rotate the roles, but again it’s a solid performance full of charisma and energy, and we can’t blame Conor for being cast in the role!
Like many Disney films, Bedknobs and Broomsticks only actually features a handful of songs (most of which have become all-time Disney classics), so as with most screen-to-stage adaptations, the material is again fleshed out with a host of new songs and additional material to help fill the extended running time, here courtesy of composer and lyricist Neil Bartram. Not all are quite a successful as the great Sherman Brothers’ originals, but they are cleverly constructed and many blend in seamlessly with the original score.
Brought to life by an expert cast and creative team, the stage production beautifully captures the warmth and magic that made the often overlooked film so special. It is worth noting that co-director, set designer and illusions designer Jamie Harrison also created the magic and illusions for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the puppets and illusions for the original London production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, as Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a production filled with tricks, illusions and close up magic.
There may not be anything overly groundbreaking about the clever stagecraft, arresting designs and fabulous puppetry utilised, but the creative elements are all just executed exceptionally well, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks delivers magical, stimulating theatre of the most uplifting and inspiring kind.
Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at The Lowry, Salford Quays: Saturday 19th March 2022.
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