Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, BLOC at Bristol Hippodrome

SINCE its foundation in 1932, when the initial production, Cox and Box and Pirates of Penzance, cost £300 to produce, BLOC, the only non-professional company to stage an annual musical production at the Bristol Hippodrome, has survived seeing its venue, the Victoria Rooms, burnt down six weeks before opening night, a World War, their theatrical home the Empire Theatre in Old Market sold and demolished, and several financial crises.

For the first time in the 62 years since they made the Bristol Hippodrome their home (they arrived there in 1956 with The Gipsy Baron), it looked this year that they had met an insurmountable problem when they discovered that no scenery, or flying vintage motor car, was available for their production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Undeterred, the company met the challenge head on and with a new set, projection and sound, designed by James Hart­land and a tremendously hard-working skillful backstage team led by technical director Peter Sutton.

When you consider that this unsubsidised company faced a budget of £220,000, a long way from the £300 invested in that first presentation, you can see what a tremendous risk they were taking. With Sold Out notices for the last three performances it looks as if the gamble has paid off and Chitty Chitty Bang bang will show a small profit rather than driving BLOC into bankruptcy.

An adult chorus of 48 plus a junior chorus of 28 may go a long way in helping to sell tickets, but you need a quality product to fill a 2,000 plus seat theatre for seven performances and that is what director Alex Turasiewicz, choreographer Donna Podesta and musical director Lauren Davies, who made excellent use of her 16 piece orchestra, presented to their audiences.

Craig Rees-Cavendish and Grace MacDonald as the lovable eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts and feisty Truly Scrumptious blending beautiful together vocally took care of the love interest. Aided by Chris Parslow’s expertly drawn Old Soldier Grandpa they even held their own for most of the show against Caractacus’ scene-stealing children Jeremy and Jemina, played with great charm, verve and vitality on the night I attended by Jack Spencer and Lily Beacon, and on alternative performances by Charlie Thould and Agatha Cameron-Kettle.

Equally at home with the vocal a well as the verbal comedy Ian Taylor and Lizzy Westney gave polished performances as the not- very-frightening villains Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Much more fearsome was Craig Sillick’s black hearted and black costumed Childcatcher.

Offering  a broader vein of comedy Alex Milner and Peter Cottell produced plenty of laughs as the incompetent spies Boris and Goran, and there were two nice supporting portraits of the irascible sweet manufacturer millionaire Lord Scrumptious and the brave hearted Toymaker from Andrew Carpenter and David Evans.

Not everything worked perfectly. The video screen could have been more clearly presented, but the flying vintage car deserved the solo bow and big reception it received at the end of the show.

There is a rumour that because a “block busting” big scale musical will occupy the Hippodrome for most of the autumn 2019. BLOC will be unable to bring a show into the theatre. If this is so it will be a loss to theatregoers not to see this entertaining exuberant company in action.


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