BWW Review: CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, Birmingham Hippodrome, 7 September 2016
One of the world's most famous cars has flown into the Birmingham Hippodrome this week, in the form of Ian Fleming and The Sherman Brothers' spectacular musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Based on the beloved film of the same name, it sees struggling inventor Caractacus Potts swept away on an extraordinary adventure with his children, Jeremy and Jemima, and the beautiful Truly Scrumptious.
Director James Brining breathes new life into this classic tale, giving it a freshness and vibrancy perfect for a modern audience, perhaps hearing the story for the first time. Whilst he (thankfully) hasn't transported the story to a contemporary setting, bright costumes, dry humour and the bold use of projection give it a very up-to-date feel.
The first thing that springs to mind when you think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is of course the car, and what a marvel of a machine this version is! Having last seen this musical over 15 years ago, the advances in the flying technology are staggering. Chitty soars above the stage, smoothly gliding up and down, and tilting forwards to give an excellent sense of perspective.
The flying effects are really brought to life by Simon Wainwright's fantastic video design: a projected image of countryside flashing by, or a foreboding gunner ship bearing down on the car, add an extra dimension of magic to this sensational production. Direction, video design, lighting and mechanics work together seamlessly to ensure that the flying effects are as realistic as possible.
The bright, cartoonish world of Wainwright's video projections blends perfectly with Simon Higlett's storybook set design. Large slatted doors open up like a doll house to reveal Caractacus Potts' home. Complete with the whimsical windmill sails up above, the inventor's home is alive with quirky inventions, a mechanical dog and an adorable boat-shaped bed. The set brims with adventure and imagination, moving quickly between different scenes.
Stephen Mear's choreography is rich and varied, reflecting the overall pace and excitement driving Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. From a beautiful ballet scene in "Toot Sweets", to the cool, energised tap of "Me Ol Bamboo" and the sensual "Bombie Samba", the show is a celebration of different dance styles. The ensemble are incredibly versatile, commanding each different number and giving a slick, polished performance.
This production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is packed with more celebrities than a pantomime. However, these performers are far more than simply a famous name; each actor was impeccably well suited to their respective role. Lee Mead was roguish, charming and charismatic as Caractacus Potts, showing incredible stamina in the dance numbers. The gravelly tone to his voice gives it a rocky feel.
Carrie Hope Fletcher's Truly Scrumptious grows in confidence throughout the performance, and her strong, sweet vocal performance is outstanding. Claire Sweeney and Phil Jupitus are hilarious as the Baroness and Baron Bomburst; her bold, brash interpretation contrasting with the more subtle and petulant Baron.
Sam Harrison's Boris and Scott Paige's Goran bring the house down with their vaudeville-inspired performance of "Act English", aided by some quirky props and showbiz choreography. Special mention also goes to Andy Hockley as Grandpa Potts. His endearing, blustering performance builds an instant connection with the audience. His comic timing, particularly during musical numbers, is impeccable. Similarly impressive are Elliot Morris (Jeremy) and Darcy Snares (Jemima), both giving excellent performances in what are two very demanding roles for young actors.
This production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a truly special, magical experience. This classic story has been enhanced with a delightful, playful design, spectacular choreography and stellar performances from a world-class cast. It makes you laugh, gasp and sing along. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang herself transports you on this thrilling adventure. Just remember to ask her nicely!
Photo credit: Alastair Muir