Review | Bedknobs and Broomsticks at Mayflower Theatre: 'The show itself did not work for me'

It’s always seemed to me that, in the great Disney canon, Bedknobs and Broomsticks has always lagged behind Mary Poppins in both the popularity and the magnificence stakes – Knobby is Mary’s poor country cousin.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:08 pm

And that’s probably fair; Eglantine Price does not have the Poppins clout.

That said, I’ve always liked the film and its spirit and hoped that the currently touring stage-version would bring that feelgood factor.

The performances are fine and some excellent, but the show itself did not work for me.

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Bedknobs & Broomsticks is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from January 11-16, 2022. Picture by Johan Persson.

Dianne Pilkington’s Eglantine Price is an altogether more feisty creation than the film-version and it works very nicely indeed. Her vocals, too, are a joy with a strong chest belt on her upper register but a sweetness and clarity when the song demands it. Her rendition of Substitutiary Locomotion is powerful indeed. Chill-down-the-spine time.

Charles Brunton’s Emelius Browne is frenetic – too frenetic for my taste – but his tenor voice soars. The major problem with the characterisation is that the sudden (very sudden!) falling-in-love of the two principal characters just doesn’t ring true.

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Charlie Rawlins, the oldest of the three siblings sent to stay with Miss Price, is very much part of that sibling trio in the film. The stage-show, however, ups him to third lead in the show. Making his professional debut in the role is Conor O’Hara and Mr O’Hara does well. His voice – another light tenor – is secure and powerful and works nicely in Charlie’s new solo – Negotiality. His playing of the role, however, could do with turning down a fraction.

Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Credit: Johan Persson

Carrie Rawlins played by Izabella Bucknell and Paul Rawlins played by Haydn Court were excellent in both their acting and particularly their singing. Top work.

Among the ensemble, Sam Lupton impresses mightily as a fish called Norton and Jacqui Dubois makes Mrs Hobday a joy. The best number in the show is, far-and-away, Portobello Road with both principals and ensemble giving their all.

My problem lies with the show itself. For those who love the Disney film it is just too far removed from the original to foster a trembling in the old nostalgia-muscle. It’s also just too busy; the cast act as both scene-shifters and occasionally scenery and they are used to the max and beyond. Yes, it’s clever, but O, how it distracts.

My other complaint is with regards to the half-heartedness of some of the show’s technical aspects. The magic of a flying bed that’s supposed to fill us with the same liberating joy as Elliott and ET flying across the face of the moon is truly underwhelming.

Yes, the bed lifts off the stage, apparently unsupported, but does little more than hover centre-stage for 30 seconds before descending again. The same is true of Miss Price’s broomstick-riding; all a bit second-class. Whilst directing the climactic battle, she’s rarely above head-height. In addition, the mighty army raised by Miss Price for that battle against the invading Nazis comprises one suit of armour, two Georgian army-uniforms, two swords and a couple of trumpets. It deserves more.

Finally, there’s a jemmied-in plot-twist at the end that is needless, pointless and – in all senses – removes the magic.

Disappointing.

Until January 16.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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