World premiere tour of Disney classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks: The Musical casts its magic at Mayflower Theatre | Interview
Hampshire plays host to a new musical based on the 1971 Disney classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks as part of its world premier tour.
The musical has been nearly a decade in the making, finally making its debut in Newcastle last August before heading out on tour.
When the three orphaned Rawlins children are reluctantly evacuated from wartime London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, they have no idea what adventures lie ahead.
Upon discovering Eglantine to be a trainee witch, they join forces to search for a secret spell that will defeat the enemy once and for all.
Dianne Pilkington plays Eglantine, a role taken by Angela Lansbury in the film.
‘It's been happening for eight years, I only became attached to it during the pandemic. I did a self-tape at the end of 2020, and then we finally got in the room with people after some Zoom interviews in the middle of April this year.
‘Watching yourself back singing is really quite soul-destroying it turns out, trying to decide which take to send in. I came to the conclusion that you should just do it like a normal audition, walk in there, give it your best 10 minutes and then get out and send them that. Otherwise you spend ages going: “Why do I do that with my mouth when I sing?” It feels very different to doing an acting self-tape.
‘Telly's very self-tape driven, but theatre's very new to this. My partner's in TV mostly, so this is a regular occurrence for him.
‘When you sing it's a slightly larger performance and you pull faces that you wouldn't when you're speaking, and you start to over-analyse things: “Oh my god, is that really what I look like?” But I think we've all got used to it.’
Dianne made her West End debut in Les Misérables in 1997, and has since starred in numerous other major musicals, including Wicked, Mamma Mia! and Young Frankenstein among many others.
Her last major role pre-Covid was originating the character of Raquel in Only Fools and Horses: The Musical.
And Eglantine is another role she has had the chance to put her stamp on.
‘Starting right at the very, very beginning like this is very exciting. What happens then is that a lot of what happens becomes very tailored to you – which then makes it harder for the person who takes over from you. I know - I've done it!
‘It is luxurious being able to do that for yourself.’
With such a well-known face in the film version, how did Dianne tackle making the part her own?
‘The directors took the pressure off straight away – they're not trying to recreate the film entirely on stage, and they're not asking anybody to create the same performance.
‘I'm very different to Angela Langsbury – although people have said there are similarities, I've not seen them and I'm a huge fan of hers, but that's a huge compliment! And Charles (Brunton as Professor Emelius Browne) is very different to David Tomlinson.
‘I've tried very hard not to copy her, because she's a unique actress and we're quite different.
‘The script is really rich, they've given everybody a rich back story, so there was plenty there to start with without needing to reference the film too much.
‘I went back and read the books too, which are fairly dark! I'd never read them before, but they're bonkers, very different from the film.
‘We are telling the same story essentially as the film, with a few changes here and there.’
However, the story has been updated by writers Bryan Hill and Neil Bartram to take into account the 50 years since the film.
‘There's some things that the writers felt they weren't satisfied with how that character ended up. With a 50-years-later head on it, and the fact that she's a real anti-fascist, feminist character, let's see what we can do with her, and I'm very grateful for that, because they've created wonderfully rounded characters.’
While the musical was originally to open in Chicago, Dianne believes opening here has been the right move.
‘The writers are from over the pond, but they've chosen to bring it here, which I think is a really wise move because essentially it is quite a British story. It feels right here, it really does.
‘And they're such Anglophiles anyway, Bryan and Neil, they really are.
‘It's just such a brilliant thing to do coming out of a pandemic, to do something that's so well loved but new. I think it's so brilliantly written, and the director's done such a great job with bringing it to the stage.’
The musical is also still very much under the Disney banner.
‘They've seen it and they seem pleased, so that's good, But it is all being done very much under their watchful eye...’
And as a trainee witch, Dianne also had great fun learning some magic tricks for the show.
‘Without giving out too much away, there's a moment where she does give in briefly to Emelius and helps him with his street magic, and it's very much a partnership in that.
‘I spent some time with a wonderful guy called Chris Fisher who's worked with our director Jamie Harrison on Harry Potter and has done a lot of the magic work for the Back To The Future musical, and learning all of these sleight of hand tricks – I loved it, I've never done anything like that in my life.
‘Charlie and I had quite a laugh learning it, we said we could probably take it out on the road together if there werre ever any problems in the future with the theatres not able to open – we've got our own little act now!
‘I hope we don’t have to do that though, I much prefer doing it from the safety of the stage...’
Bedknobs & Broomsticks The Musical is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from January 11-16. Go to mayflower.org.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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