Mary Poppins is an unashamedly old-fashioned, feel-good musical, at times very pantomimic in style – ideal family Christmas-time entertainment for children of all ages, especially in Cameron Mackintosh’s lavish production at the Prince Edward Theatre, where it was first seen in 2004.
There can be few who do not know the Sherman Brothers songs, most of which are heard in the first act, or who have never seen the Disney movie on which the stage show is based (or who have even read the books by P L Travers?).
This is a spectacular piece of theatre, due in no small part to the superb direction of Richard Eyre, but also, and especially, to the inventive and imaginative scenic and costume designs of Bob Crowley. Unlike most stage adaptations of films, this stage version is much more spectacular, especially with regard to the ‘magic’ effects and flying: I mustn’t say more or I shall need a ‘spoiler’ alert, but there are some real jaw-dropping moments when you think: how on earth do they do that!
Much effort has clearly been made in casting the show. Zizi Strallen is the embodiment of Mary herself, appearing very relaxed in the role, yet with so much poise and elegance. She has that wonderful ability to be totally ‘still’ on stage, except when she is dancing and singing!
Charlie Stemp, who impressed in Chichester’s Half a Sixpence a few years ago, does so again as Bert, the chimney sweep. He, and the rest of the all-singing, all-dancing ensemble, are given a ballet (Step in Time) in Act Two, with choreography by the resourceful Matthew Bourne which is the highlight of the performance – up to this point! Mr Stemp is ever ‘charming’ and has true connectivity with the audience, especially in the kite flying scene, which was even better than it should have been for going slightly wrong!
Joseph Millson is the father figure/banker, George Banks, treading a fine line between a David Tomlinson impersonation in his acting and Rex Harrison in his singing. His wife and the children’s mother, Winifred Banks, is in the more than capable hands of Amy Griffiths, who is given a charming song, ‘Being Mrs Banks’ in Act Two, which she puts over with just the right pathos: one of the few romantic moments of the evening!
Fred Wilcox plays their son, Michael, at the performance under review, with a wicked sense of humour, especially facially, and an ability to project his dialogue and songs with clarity. Nuala Peberdy is his sister, Jane.
Among secondary roles, Petula Clark defies the ages in the role of The Bird Woman, Claire Moore is suitably horrible as Miss Andrew (her Brimstone and Treacle song is delightfully ‘awful’) and Ian Gareth-Jones impresses as the Policeman. In fact the whole acting/singing/dancing ensemble of 39 is superb, doing everything that is asked of them with panache.
Musically the show is very successful, with a live 12 piece orchestra in the pit that one could actually see, as well as MD Graham Hurman. The orchestrations(William David Brohn) are very imaginative – showing a lightness of touch that Robert Russell Bennett would have been proud of.
In short, if you want a totally escapist evening at the theatre, with or without children in tow, you can do no better than Mary Poppins!
Review by John Groves
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