Friday 11 February 2022

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

 Curve, Leicester

10th February, 2022

Think of England

I’m surprised it’s taken so long to bring Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the stage. Based on Disney’s 1971 movie with songs by The Sherman Brothers, a stage adaptation would seem like a natural transition. Indeed, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins were among my first West End musicals. Chitty flying, the Child Catcher being snared to the roof of the Palladium, Mary flying over the audience, the proscenium walk, that house filling the stage of the Prince Edward… they are all indelible moments from my childhood which turned an interest in theatre into an obsession. Whilst the world premiere of Bedknobs and Broomsticks (produced by Michael Harrison) doesn’t quite reach the same heights, it certainly has its own style and charm which had the audience up on its feet at Curve last night.

Set in WWII England, Bedknobs and Broomsticks sees three siblings, recently orphaned after a bomb drops on their home, evacuated to the countryside where they are taken in by Miss. Eglantine Price, a trainee witch. The story takes them on a journey of flying beds, dancing clothes and talking animals as they go to the Island of Nopeepo. It’s a show about being betwixt and between worlds and the power of the imagination to escape. Whilst it features some impressive puppetry and set pieces, I can’t help but feel something is missing to make it really fly.

Jamie Harrison’s set and illusions are pure magic! The flying bed alone is enough to enthral audiences and inspire a new generation of theatregoers. Eglantine Price getting to grips with her broomstick before flying through the window into the night is also well done. Later in act one, as the music swells in ‘Portobello Road’, London’s skyline rises, market stalls wheel on, oil paintings fly in and streetlamps unfold. It is a particularly impressive sequence which conjures the energy of that market. My only hesitation about the design is that there’s so much of it! No sooner have the cast trucked on one piece of scenery they’re wheeling it off again. It’s true that this is part of the show’s frenetic energy, but I found it distracting at times.

It is all very slick, however, largely thanks to the tireless work of the company. Emma Thornett captures the prim and proper side of Miss. Price as well as the more comical moments really nicely. Robin Simões Da Silva also deserves a mention as Charlie Rawlins, conveying the sense of the older sibling stuck between childhood innocence and adult responsibilities. I was also struck by Sam Lupton’s performance as the con artist Emelius Browne, especially the number of quick sleight-of-hand tricks in his intro song ‘Emelius the Great’. And Rob Madge steals the scene with their puppetry skills as Norton, a charismatic northern fish.

With further distilling, there’s the potential for a big hit here. And looking at the audience last night, from young families to a gentleman sat nearby celebrating his 83rd birthday, Bedknobs and Broomsticks appeals to all ages, whether you’re revisiting it for reasons of nostalgia or coming to the story afresh.

Rob Madge and the cast of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Credit: Johan Persson.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks plays at Curve, Leicester until 13th February as part of a UK tour running until May. For more information please visit Bedknobs and Broomsticks the Musical UK Tour 2021/22 | Disney UK | Disney Tickets UK


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