BWW Blog: Up on the Railing of the Slip Seats - A Review of Mary Poppins
As any student with a tight budget knows, one of the main goals when seeing a show is to try to get a seat that is cheap yet allows me to still see at least 50% of the stage. I tend to spend my mornings in London waiting in line at the box office in the hopes of getting a cheap ticket with a relatively good view for the price. While some day seat rushes have been successes (The Lion King, Matilda, and Heathers are just a few examples), others, like Everybody's Talking About Jamie, have left me with a sore neck and only some bits of quality audio. That's why I was a bit suspicious when the staff at the Prince Edward Theatre Box Office offered me a ticket for £15 for that night's performance of Mary Poppins. These were the "slip seats" of the theatre, mysterious seat that weren't located on any website that showed views of the stage from a particular vantage point. But a £15 is indeed a £15 ticket, so I decided to go for Dress Circle Seat AA3.
Arriving at the theatre was quite easy, doors opened about thirty minutes before the performance and the security was efficient with only a small line. The bar staff were friendly and the drinks were reasonably priced, with a good bottle of apple cider going for £5 - I would've spent £20 on another show that night, so why not splurge a little? The doors were a bit confusing but I managed to find my way to Door M ("As in Mary!") without too much trouble. After climbing up a flight of stairs to the Dress Circle I had to climb right back down another step to reach the slip seats. As a tall person with awkwardly long legs, going down an aisle and getting into my seat is probably the most uncomfortable part of the night, and this night was no exception. It was either press my body against the wall behind me or lean the other way and fall down into the Stalls, which I'm sure no one would have appreciated. So after hugging the wall for a little bit I made it to my seat and sank down, ready to see the £15 view I had gotten.
To my surprise, the view was quite nice! The railing was low enough that I could lean over without any worries of being blocked by a big, cold hunk of metal in my face. I could see everything on stage except the entrances on my right, which wasn't a big deal as most actors tended to enter through the center. Even though there was an older couple next to me who insisted on singing along to the songs (I was tempted to pull a Chip Mulaney and ask, "Are you going to talk the whole time?"), the behavior of the audience was better than I expected. There were very few interruptions, save for a tiny child having a breakdown in the back row of the Dress Circle, but as a university student approaching finals week I can commiserate with such high emotions.
Now onto the show itself - Mary Poppins. To be honest, I had never seen this show and had never really had an interest in seeing it. Dame Julie Andrews is a queen and Dick Van Dyke is a national treasure - Why ruin what's already perfect (well, except van Dyke's accent) with an imitation? As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about, as the stage musical of Mary Poppins puts its own spin on not only the movie musical but brings in some material from the original books. The orchestrations were lovely and there were no sound issues, even for a seat that was nearly behind a wall. The added songs and script changes were appreciated, especially creating a stronger character for Mrs. Banks (Amy Griffiths).
As the title character, Zizi Strallen shines in a role that was practically made for her. She returned to the show after performing as Mary in the international tour, where she was showered with praise. For someone who has read the books and has a love for the movie musical, Strallen was an absolute dream to watch. She has the sternness and wittiness of the book Mary but also the love and moments of softness that made the Mary of Andrews so endearing in the movie. When listening to Strallen you can nearly hear the pure voice of Julie Andrews but with a lovely and stronger tone, which is definitely needed to carry a show such as this one. Playing a beloved character is difficult, but Strallen shows that sometimes the original may not always be the best. Please don't attack me, Julie Andrews fans.
One thing that readers should know the author is that I have a deep love and appreciation for tap dancers wearing newsboy caps and old-fashioned clothing (usually with a few smudges of dirt on their face). So for me, "Step in Time" was already going to be my favorite song, but the performance absolutely blew me away. The audience was the closest I've seen to a standing ovation mid-show in a long time which is saying something as I try to see as many shows as possible when I visit London. Charlie Stemp gives an outstanding performance as Bert with enough charm and grace that you might consider him to be the next official Disney prince. The ensemble is thrilling with high-energy dance moves and wonderful harmonies, not just in this number, but throughout the entire show. I particularly enjoyed watching the different ensemble members during "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", an intricate number with rounds that left my head spinning.
Another thing to note about me I've never been particularly fond of musicals that heavily feature children. You can imagine that I didn't exactly love Matilda - But hey, a £5 student ticket is the closest you can get for free and I wasn't about to spend £300 on Hamilton, a show that has a grown man play a nine-year old. But to my pleasant surprise, the children, Adelaid Barham and Gabriel Payne, who play Jane and Michael Banks respectively, had beautiful voices and surprisingly incredible comedic timing. They blended in well with the rest of the cast, who seemed to welcome the young ones with open arms.
So thank you, Dress Circle AA3, for being a pleasant surprise in my West End theatre journey. You may not have been the most comfortable seat, but you served your purpose, even if I never did have the chance to sit back and test how comfortable your backrest was. Though your leg space was tiny, you allowed me to see a wonderful show for a cheap price with a good plastic cup of cider in my hand. I will definitely be recommending you and Mary Poppins as a whole to my fellow student theatre goers in the future.
Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins is currently playing at the Prince Edward Theatre located on Old Compton Street in Soho, London, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (Matinee performances on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays). The show is booking until late spring of 2020. For tickets please call the Box Office at +44 844 482 5151or visit the Delfton Mackintosh Theatres website at https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/mary-poppins/.