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Review: BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The world premiere stage adaptation of Mary Norton's novel is flying high

Review: BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Review: BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury "Where did all the happy endings go? Where can all the good times be?" When West End stalwart Dianne Pilkington enchanted the audience yesterday evening at the press night of Bedknobs and Broomsticks with The Sherman Brothers' "The Age of Not Believing", perhaps the 1971 Disney film's most iconic number, I couldn't help but think about we have all endured over the past year and a half. Where exactly did all the happy endings go?

And as for those good times, well, I'm happy to report that this spellbinding world premiere production is bringing them back to theatres across the UK and Ireland in droves - youngsters and nostalgia-seeking parents and grandparents alike.

For those unfamiliar with the Disney classic (or its source materials, Mary Norton's children's novels), the plot follows three recently orphaned children in 1940, who are evacuated from war-torn London to the leafy countryside of Pepperinge Eye to escape the Blitz. There they are taken in, with some initial reluctance, by Miss Eglantine Price (immortalised on screen by the great Dame Angela Lansbury), who turns out to be an apprentice witch.

The children, Charlie Rawlins and younger siblings Carrie and Paul, become wrapped up in Miss Price's magical mission to retrieve a spell which she believes can aid the war effort and defeat the enemy. With the addition of her somewhat underqualified but ultimately goodhearted tutor Professor Emelius Browne, the group form a familial bond in the face of adversity, with hopes for a new and brighter future together.

Directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison have infused this production with lashings of theatricality, striking just the right balance between visual effects and allowing the audience to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. Harrison, who also serves as set and illusion designer, should be commended for his efforts with the magical elements of this production. Despite the technical limitations of a touring show, he has managed to create illusions that genuinely bewitch the audience.

Whether it's Miss Price taking to the sky on her broom, a glowing, levitating bed or someone being transformed into a white rabbit, the impact is instant, effective, and delightful. With a proven track record through shows such as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I'd be intrigued to see how Harrison develops those elements should the show eventually find a West End home.

In addition, choreographer Neil Bettles delivers the goods with the full company numbers. As you'd expect, "Portobello Road," "Substitutiary Locomotion" and "The Beautiful Briny" all receive rousing stagings, whilst the excellent puppetry (reminiscent of Jiminy Cricket in The National Theatre's Pinocchio) gives life to the animal characters in the story. There's a thoughtful nod to the original creators with the naming of those animals: a fish called Norton (after the author), a bear named Sherman (the original composers), and King Leonidas's bird servant goes by Angela (paying homage to Lansbury).

As for the music, there is nothing that equates to the nostalgia effect of hearing those classic Sherman Brothers songs performed live, and this production also reinstates tunes cut from the film such as "A Step in the Right Direction" and "Nobody's Problems". However, kudos to Neil Bartram, who has provided additional songs for this stage adaptation and has merged the score seamlessly. I was thrilled to discover that the spell "Filigree, Apogee, Pedigree, Perigee" now has its own musical number.

Dianne Pilkington is perfectly cast as our heroine, Miss Eglantine Price, stepping out of the shadow of Dame Angela Lansbury with an interpretation that offers a slightly harder shell to ultimately crack, whilst Charles Brunton's take on Emelius Browne is a complete reinvention that revels in eccentricity, like a Willy Wonka or an Arthur Weasley.

Speaking of JK Rowling's Wizarding World, Emelius and Eglantine's costumes (designed by Gabriella Slade) are much more in line with that stylised approach than the incognito, period costumes seen in the film.

Diehard movie fans should be warned that Brian Hill's book occasionally deviates from the Disney classic. Gone is the no-holds-barred soccer match between the animals, Eglantine's black cat Cosmic Creepers is now simply memorialised in an askew portrait, and the musical's ending throws us a curve ball.

But, when all is said and done, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a whimsical theatrical triumph. And if you, like this writer, faced the age of not believing long ago, it's high time we remembered to embrace the child within and start believing in the healing power of live theatre once again.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks continues its UK and Ireland Tour through to May 2022. Book tickets here

Photo Credit: Johan Persson



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From This Author - Tom Hayden Millward

Tom Hayden Millward is a writer and videographer

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BWW Review: BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, The Marlowe Theatre, CanterburyBWW Review: BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
August 28, 2021

'Where did all the happy endings go? Where can all the good times be?' When West End stalwart Dianne Pilkington enchanted the audience yesterday evening at the press night of Bedknobs and Broomsticks with The Sherman Brothers' 'The Age of Not Believing', perhaps the 1971 Disney film's most iconic number, I couldn't help but think about we have all endured over the past year and a half.