Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
QPAC Lyric Theatre
28 November – 22 December 2013
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
What Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang lacks in substance, it makes up for in sweetness, and good old-fashioned theatrical magic (using the latest technology) for the whole family. The much-loved classic story of a well mannered, magical, rejigged racing car lacks a little in the plot department, but we knew that. What we didn’t know was just how easily this musical would affect us – each of us – because of its sense of wonder and uninhibited childlike spirit. Knowing the music from watching the film version at least a hundred times a year (you think I’m exaggerating!), I can’t help but think of Mary Poppins’ Spoonful of Sugar. (The same composers and lyricists, Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman, wrote Chitty’s songs).
In every job that must be done there is an element of fun; you find the fun and snap! The job’s a game! And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake…
Sorry. I know. It will be in your head all week now. In every moment of Chitty, it’s as if the company has sought to deliver the very same element of fun. It doesn’t matter that the show doesn’t actually make sense. Laugh! Gasp! Enjoy! And even more so, because every single cast member is exquisitely talented, and clearly loving their job. And although they are awesome, bringing amazing energy and wonderful sound and character to the show, unfortunately for the ensemble, the stars in this production shine very bright!
What an absolute delight to see David Hobson (Caractacus Potts) and Rachael Beck (Truly Scrumptious) paired, their vocals soaring and their eyes continuously flirting with the temptation to lock with one another’s, that is, when they are not gazing adoringly upon the children, Jeremy and Jemima. I had feared I might be disappointed actually, because I’ve seen nothing of Hobson since Baz Lurhman’s La Boheme on VHS when I was at high school (over and over and over! For years, it was La Boheme, Sondheim at Carnegie Hall, Clue, Twin Peaks and Rage. It was a rather eclectic, interesting household!). Hobson is no Dick Van Dyke but nor does he need to be. His delightful characterisation is just so, giving us neither too much, nor too little of the quirks and unique qualities of the inventor, and father of the two children. Hobson gives this role a completely new feel, and his antics are cute, his voice sublime, and his dancing up there with the best of ‘em. Hushabye Mountain is a poignant highlight.
Me ol’ bamboo, me ol’ bamboo, budda gudda budda gudda ol’ bamboo!
I never did get what they were singing during that number.
Beck is simply beautiful, bringing precisely the right amount of sweetness and light to the role of Truly Scrumptious, without being at all sickening, something that does not go unnoticed. Because she is absolutely gorgeous, all eyes are drawn to her, and when she sings she seals the deal, keeping powerful vocals in check to produce a truly scrumptious sound, pure and pretty. Doll on a Music Box is perfection. Her sass balances her sweetness nicely. Let’s have more of Ms Beck please, Mr Producer.
Four children share the roles of Jeremy and Jemima and on opening night we enjoyed the performances of Jayden McGinlay and Emma Cobb (not pictured).
The way these two work together on stage is almost as synchronous as the pair of gorgeous creatures in the movie, who I always imagined must behave in exactly the same manner in real life, a thought which left me in awe of all smiling, singing siblings dressed in rags.
This production boasts 32 more super talented children, and their strong vocals and well-prepared characters come across superbly, particularly in one of the final scenes, beneath the castle where the Lost Children are kept hidden from sight. Props to their coaches and parents – this is our next generation of musical theatre stars and I’m so excited for them. Honestly, a more professional children’s chorus I’ve not seen. If you have kids who want desperately to perform, you’re going to have to fork out for two lots of tickets, because after the magic of experiencing it the first time, any ambitious young actor really needs to see the kids in this show a second time!
Keeping the children hidden are the Baron and Baroness, played to the max by Shane Bourne and Jennifer Vuletic. These two don’t miss a beat and together they almost steal the show with their slightly wicked, extremely weird, amusingly and frighteningly kinky relationship. I’ve never understood the need for their random duet and it made just as little sense to include it in this production. Just don’t try to explain it to the kids and it’ll go away. (I’m sure they just think it’s cute and funny…until they see the show again ten years later and ask you, “What WAS that?!”). Bourne’s little boy tantrums and teddy bear antics are perfectly juxtaposed against Vuletic’s slightly scary dominatrix ways, and together, if we must have them, they make a perfect pair. I say they very nearly steal the show because there is another pair competing for laughs, and they are by far the funniest element in this production.
They are the funny, foolish, bumbling spies, who are sent by the Baroness to retrieve the magical car from England and bring it home to Vulgaria as a gift to the Baron on his birthday. I love the physicality George Kapiniaris (Goran) and Todd Goddard (Boris) bring to their roles and, an absolute hit with the audience, surprisingly, they never overplay their parts, or overstay their welcome. These two are the clowning aspect of the show, in the very best sense of the term, bringing slapstick and silly voices to centrestage. In complete contrast, I almost feel sorry for Tyler Coppin (The Child Catcher), who moves quietly and serpentine-like, in the most balletic way; it’s a wonderful performance, but one which can hardly win audiences, being so creepy a role. He isn’t even granted applause during the curtain call on opening night but is instead met with boos and hisses! Perhaps this is the desired effect, as the response appears to be in good fun! We also enjoy Frank Garfield (Grandpa Potts) and his eccentricities. Garfield establishes a lovely relationship with the children, and with Caractacus, reinforcing the family themes.
The production boasts the most detailed, delicious looking costumes we’ve seen since Mary Poppins, and the magnificent set is complemented by lighting states that include an entire night sky (Designer Anthony Ward), lit by, Poppy is sure of it, “a million trillion stars! They shine like diamonds!” Of course, the most impressive piece – and the most expensive prop in musical theatre history – is the car. Chitty is beautifully conceived and comes to life vividly, making her a legitimate additional character, especially when she refuses to respond with engine or headlights unless one says, “Please!” Chitty actually appears to float upon the sea and fly through the air; it’s a triumph, and a brilliant appropriation for the theatre of amusement park technology.
Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…
With this stellar company, and a superb orchestra led by MD Peter Casey, Director, Rodger Hodgman brings Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to vibrant life on stage. It’s the musical we’ve loved to watch forever on film, regardless of it making sense or not! And this production has so many highlights you’ll have to choose your own! No matter what’s happened in your day, week, month, year, no matter what mood you’re in when you arrive, you’ll warm to Chitty quickly, and your heart will melt over the children. Your head will revisit your every notion about the family sticking together, you’ll laugh at the comical characters that barely justify their existence in the script, and you’ll leave feeling satisfied, happy to have had even a little childlike fun with the family at a time of year that challenges even the most patient parents.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is without a doubt the best thing you can do for the family this festive season. Treat yourself, and treat the children to a couple of hours of unforgettable fun and magic.
Images: Michael Dare