Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies into The Festival Theatre Edinburgh and brings to life on stage many elements of the much loved Children’s book by Ian Fleming and the equally as loved 1968 film of the book. In this production, the time frame is moved slightly from pre World War I to just after the war, and this little shift in time has no conflict with the original story...in fact, it adds for a few interesting references.
This production was always going to have some obstacles to overcome. The first of them, actually making “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” fly in a believable manner, and when dealing with a full scale motor car rather than a scaled down model, this was always going to be a huge problem to overcome...the car has to fly, simple as that. This problem is overcome wonderfully and convincingly by a combination of mechanical trickery, state of the art background projection equipment, and old fashioned stage magic. There are a limited number of stages around the country that are like The Festival Theatre’s, large enough to accommodate a show like this, and on a stage like this, the effect is itself well worth the admission price. Designer Simon Higlett and Video Designer Simon Wainwright have done an outstanding job here.
The second, and biggest obstacle this show has to overcome is a lot more difficult, and that is that the motor car itself is the star of the show, and on top of this, it also gets the best and most recognisable song. Whoever the cast members are in this production, they always run the risk of being second to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang herself.
The only answer to the second problem is to make sure you have a talented and experienced cast, good song and dance numbers, great costumes, and a story that allows adaptation to a stage format while retaining the core essence of the book. That they overall manage to do in this show, and at its heart, this is an old fashioned musical variety show, and that format allows itself to fit perfectly into the type of “acts” that a music or vaudeville theatre of the time period might have had performing on stage.
Caractacus Potts, the not too successful inventor and widowed father of two young children is played by Jason Manford, and it is a solid performance that sees him excel in drama ranging from comedy to real heart warming pieces as well as song and dance numbers. Part of that success is the chemistry on stage between Jason and Charlotte Wakefield as Truly Scrumptious. Andy Hockley as Grandpa Potts does get to steal many a scene here though, even if the part did remind me at times of good old “Corporal Jones”.
Much of this show of course rests on the performance of the Potts children and those roles are played with enthusiasm tonight by Hayden Goldberg (Jeremy Potts) and Lucy Sherman (Jemima Potts). Both of them work well together too, and are a believable brother and sister on stage.
This is a children;s story though and we need villains. Those roles go to Claire Sweeney as Baroness Bomburst and Phill Jupitus as Baron Bomburst. Both just seem to be having so much fun with these roles on stage, and Claire gets that element of comedy just right in the Samba routine.
Chief villain of course is the Childcatcher, and Jos Vantyler is a wonderful vaudeville villain in this role. The Childcatcher probably terrified many parents in the audience as children, and I am sure that that will be repeated again to the many children in the audience at the show. This of course is the completely over the top frightening world that young children always for some reason seem to enjoy, and I think at times our adult interpretation of the word “terror” is not quite right for their emotional response.
Solid performances too from Ewen Cummins as Bill Coggins and The Toymaker.
Also here, the comedy spy duo of Boris (Sam Harrison)” and Goran (Scott Paige), and they are both obviously having fun camping up these roles. I am, however, not too sure that the sometimes camped up innuendo has a place in what is at its heart a children’s show. Their roles do at times bring an almost pantomime element to the show...what then can be more traditional, camped up and innuendo laden than that.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a song and dance musical though, and we can’t forget that either. This is a big budget production taking on tour with it live musicians, dancers, great costumes and some great production number songs. As is often the case, there are some musical numbers which are real gems to come across. And that one for me in this show is “Hushabye Mountain”.
This was always going to be a delicate balance of putting on a show that still kept the children’s story at its core but allowed enough development to keep an adult audience entertained while at the same time staying close enough to many adults in the audience’s own childhood memories of either the book or the film (or both) and overall, it succeeds.
This is a huge production of a show, and there are never that many of them touring at any point in time, so great to see one like this coming to Edinburgh.
Review by Tom King