It may be advisable for some people in the entertainment industry not to work with children or animals, but there’s little point to Mary Poppins without Jane (Adelaide Barham at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Imogen Bourn, Charlotte Breen, Ellie Kit Jones and Nuala Peberdy) and Michael Banks (Gabriel Payne at the performance I attended, the role being shared with Joseph Duffy, Samuel Newby, Edward Walton and Fred Wilcox), the unruly children of George (Joseph Millson) and Winifred Banks (Amy Griffiths). They are only unruly by George’s standards (think Trunchbull in Matilda The Musical, only George comes to his senses eventually).
Perhaps it’s because society has changed so much since the days of chimney sweeps like Bert (Charlie Stemp, who by his own admission regularly asked Sir Cameron Mackintosh if he could be considered for the role) that one wonders, from an early twenty-first century perspective, what on earth Jane and Michael were meant to have done that would justify their father’s desire for a stern disciplinarian in the role of their nanny. Of course, we still have chimney sweeps today, though their work is subjected to risk assessments and carried out with the use of personal protective equipment (yes, I did look that up).
Zizi Strallen in the title role has a clear and sublime singing voice, and her stage presence oozes charm and endearment. Petula Clark CBE, at 86 years young, does a serviceable job as Bird Woman singing ‘Feed The Birds’ (you know the one, “tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag”) – it is a terrific performance but could perhaps have been a little more melancholy as befits the lyrics. Mrs Brill (Claire Machin), meanwhile, provides significant comedy value as the overworked and underpaid cook to the Banks household. Miss Andrew (Claire Moore), a tyrannical nanny, is convincingly terrifying.
The special effects range from simple to highly elaborate, with the set design coming into its own in Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, with Mrs Corry (Malinda Parris) and her conversation shop being a particular highlight. There’s plenty for adults and children alike to be wowed by, from Poppins’ handbag that seems to have unlimited room for miscellaneous large objects, to the song and dance movements in ‘Step in Time’. The temptation is to rename it ‘Stemp in Time’, though exactly why is frankly giving away too much, suffice to say Bert’s stage presence both here and in other musical numbers is first rate. The acting, singing and dancing ability matches the impressive sets, and vice versa: more than a spoonful of spectacular scenery helps the medicine go down, and in a most delightful way. (Sorry not sorry, as certain millennials would say.)
This production brought to mind an automated translation of a review of a different musical whose international tour included a run in Paris: “sweet without being disgusting”. The phrase actually translated as “sweet without being sickening”. The 2 hours 45 minutes running time may be a little trying for the very youngest members of the audience – let’s just say that it is extraordinary what children are capable of sleeping through – and in a later number, ‘Anything Can Happen’, the positivity and inspiration that musical theatre is so good at is palpable: “Broaden your horizon / Open different doors / You may find a you there you never knew was yours.”
I started by mentioning the children who play Jane and Michael Banks – their roles are demanding, and they delivered nuanced and appealing performances throughout. The production does not merely attempt to plonk the movie on stage: while there are some scenes lifted from the original script, there are others that are markedly different. The fusion between ‘old’ and ‘new’ is a snug fit, and this enthusiastic, impressive and breathtaking production must be seen to be believed.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The magical story of the world’s favourite Nanny arriving on Cherry Tree Lane has been triumphantly and spectacularly brought to the stage with dazzling choreography, incredible effects and unforgettable songs. The stage version of Mary Poppins, brilliantly adapted from the wonderful stories by PL Travers and the original beloved Walt Disney film, continues to be a smash hit around the world since its opening in London 15 years ago.
The original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman include the classic songs Jolly Holiday, Step in Time, Feed the Birds and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. New songs and additional music are by the Olivier award-winning British team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Book is by Academy Award®-winning screenwriter and Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes and this production is co-created by Cameron Mackintosh. The producer for Disney Theatrical Productions is Thomas Schumacher.
This production of Mary Poppins has orchestrations by William David Brohn with dance and vocal arrangements by George Stiles. It has a new sound design by Paul Gatehouse and new lighting by Hugh Vanstone and Natasha Katz. Co-choreography is by Stephen Mear. The reimagined set and costume designs are by Bob Crowley. Co-direction and choreography is by Matthew Bourne and direction by Richard Eyre.
The stage production of Mary Poppins originally opened in the West End in December 2004, running for over 1,250 performances. During this time, the production won two Olivier Awards and an Evening Standard Award. Subsequently the Tony Award®-winning Broadway production ran for over six years.
Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton St, Soho, London W1D 4HS
Performances: Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7.30pm
Thursday, Saturday and Sundays at 2.30pm
Family Night performances on Wednesdays at 7pm