Classic musicals like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will always have special meaning to people of all ages. They always seem to take me back to my childhood Christmas holidays, and the small pile of chocolate I usually managed to enjoy along with them.
The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was the venue packed to the rafters with families and other folks of all ages.
This is no school hall panto production. All the lights, sets, music and grandeur flew straight in from the West End. The moment you step into the main hall in the theatre you see the windmill set – representing the iconic home of the Potts family from MGM’s 1968 movie – covering the entire stage.
This windmill’s got a few tricks in its creaky rafters. The set can fold back and open up in several cleverly designed ways to portray a scrapyard, the Potts’ kitchen, Lord Scrumptious’ sweet factory and Baron Bomburst’s castle. The props of the ruined Chitty and her immaculately restored version are on wheels and hydraulic jacks respectively to make them part of the show rather than just props. More on the hydraulics later.
Comedian Jason Manford steps out for the role of Carraticus Potts, a role it seems Ian Fleming himself wrote for him. In this adaption slight changes are made from the original. The spoiled Baron Bomburst sends two clumsily camp and loveable spies, Boris and Gordon, to steal the “magic car” and bring it back to the fictitious nation of Vulgaria.
Any men who can disguise themselves punderfully as petrol pumps and bushes while poking fun at trying to be “proper English gentlymen” always deserve the biggest applause and they keep the audience laughing from the beginning.
The late Mrs. Potts also makes an appearance for Hushabye Mountain, an immensely powerful and moving duet with Manford. While it is usually best to not stray from the source material these changes only serve to add to the overall performance.
Manford dazzles as the show’s lead, yet his two children are somewhat lacklustre. The young boy and girl playing the Potts children, while obviously enjoying their roles immensely, still can’t help but almost giggle at their own jokes and shout rather than sing some of their parts. That being said they’re obviously having the time of their times performing in such a stellar cast.
Former Eastender and Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp creeps up in the second act as the sinister Childsnatcher. A perfectly eerie performance brings some needed balance to a show chockablock with slapstick and innuendos. In stark contrast is the enchanting Michelle Collins as the aptly named Truly Scrumptious. She carries the role with little effort in a sublimely natural performance.
Along with the ghastly Childsnatcher and the delightful Truly, there’s plenty of comic relief. Boris and Gordon, played by Sam Harrison and Scott Paige make a brilliant comic double act with more than an just air of Laurel and Hardy about them.
Funniest of all on the night was the ever witty comic Phil Jupitus as both the old fuddy-duddy Lord Scrumptious and greedy man-child Baron Bomburst. An organic brand of comedic acting shines through in Jupitus’ performance with most of his lines delivered in a mock Germanic accent and the punches in his natural cockney tone.
Now, those hydraulics. They lift the end of the first act up to its highest point, quite literally. The beautifully rebuilt Chitty flies out across the ocean to rescue the senile Potts Senior, after Boris and Gordon mistake him for his inventor son and abduct him.
A dense fog portraying clouds covers the stage as the projectionist paints a black veil with a million specks of white to bring in the night. The car ascends on the jacks lifting Mr. Potts, Truly and the children high above the stage making the audience crane their necks to get the best view. A spectacular sight with the classic Chitty soundtrack to close before the break.
Packed full of charm, laughs and keeping the theme of family at its core this is a show that will never be forgotten. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a timeless classic and this latest interpretation makes its own mark while still staying beautifully true to the original.