Vivienne Kennedy reviews Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, playing at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 4 February
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our fine four-fendered friend, has rolled into Bristol, the last stop on a nationwide tour, and the show truly is as scrumptious as a cherry peach parfait – a mid-winter treat for young and old alike.
The 1968 film of Ian Fleming’s novel was a childhood favourite, telling the story of a sweetly eccentric inventor, his family, and their battle to save a very special car from the perils of the scrapyard. I had high hopes for a stage show full of spectacle plus a few earworms, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
All the ingredients for perfect musical theatre are there – catchy songs that are still playing in my head 12 hours later; brilliant dance routines, the ensemble taking on the roles of sweet factory employees, Morris men, mad scientists, royal courtiers and much more; cute kids that are just the right side of precocious; a love story; and laughs aplenty.
Visually…well…all the spectacle you could want is right there on that stage. Designer Simon Higlett, along with video designer Simon Wainwright and lighting designer Tim Mitchell, has worked magic, creating a seemingly simple wooden set that with the use of clever projection work takes the audience from windmill to garage, from countryside to seaside, and from England across the channel to the fictional kingdom of Vulgaria where a toy-loving Baron wants to make his country great again (one line that really did send a chill through my heart).
And of course there’s the car herself, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, registration GEN 11, a former Grand Prix champion restored to glory and nicknamed for the noise she makes…chitty…chitty…bang…bang. She floats, she flies, she’s pretty darned awesome.
Led by Jason Manford and Charlotte Wakefield as Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious, the casting is spot on. I thought Claire Sweeney and Phill Jupitus were great as Baroness and Baron Bomburst and I enjoyed watching Andy Hockley as Grandpa Potts. Despite their tender years Finn Richards and Emma Jane Shorrock (Team Scrumptious), playing Jeremy and Jemima Potts, were thoroughly professional and very accomplished, they both have beautiful singing voices. Praise also to local youngsters playing the sewer children; there must have been some very proud parents in the press night audience.
If I had to pick stand-out performances it would be Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as the hapless spies Boris and Goran. They have some of the best lines and deliver them in style. I also strangely enjoyed being scared by Jos Vantyler as The Childcatcher, a character who inhabited my childhood nightmares thanks to ballet dancer Robert Helpmann’s portrayal in the film.
(I experienced a slightly surreal moment earlier in the evening, while eating a panini in Espirito, a lovely little coffee lounge just around the corner from Bristol Hippodrome in Denmark Street, when I realised the Irish gentleman ordering “an extra-large, extra-strong, skinny latte to go” at the counter was in fact The Childcatcher. He didn’t seem at all scary as he asked the proprietor about her day, which I guess is testament to his acting skills.)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang plays at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 4 February and if you’re looking for musical theatre that the whole family will enjoy it’s one to get tickets for. You won’t get your thoughts provoked or your heart broken but it will leave you with a smile on your face and a song or two firmly lodged in your mind’s ear (and yes, that’s a thing, I just checked before typing it).
For further information and to book online visit www.atgtickets.com
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is presented by Music & Lyrics and West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Photo: The Cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Credit Alastair Muir