Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bristol Hippodrome

plays CHITTY_A5_AW-2SOON after my sixth birthday, way back in the year when Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales and when the first decimal coins were in circulation, I was taken to the old cinema in Shaftesbury, with mum, dad, and four-year-old sister, to watch a magical film, where a car flew and people burst into song at the drop of a hat.

The cinema has since become some very desirable retirement apartments, but the film is still shown regularly on terrestrial television, and in 2002 it was adapted into a stage musical, with new songs by the original composers, star casting, and still revolving around that magical flying car.

The car, named by original author Ian Fleming after the sound it makes, is of course Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and although it is a marvel of design and technical wizardry, and has often been called the star of the show, it is matched on stage by at least some of its human colleagues. Jason Manford has already proved his prowess on stage, in last year’s tour of The Producers, and although not a Dick van Dyke on his toes, he is a good character actor as Caractacus Potts, bringing a gentle reality to the role. The other “names” in the show are the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, played by Phill Jupitus and Claire Sweeney, and each of them proves that they are so much more than just names from the television, with some lovely comedy from both and seaside sauciness from Sweeney in particular. They also play different, and very contrasting, characters in the first half.

Charlotte Wakefield, one of the highpoints of last year’s tour of Oklahoma as Laurey, shines as Truly Scrumptious. Her performance as the doll on a music box alone is mesmerising, especially when Manford joins in towards the end – their voices combine so well. Jos Vantyler is a delightfully scary and quite sexy childcatcher, proving that you do not need to be famous anywhere else to bring this villain to life and Andy Hockley is a wonderful Grandpa Potts, very reminiscent of Lionel Jeffries in the film. Special mention must also be made of Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as spies Boris and Goran respectively, whose physical comedy is tremendous.

This is a full-on stage show, full of big musical song and dance numbers, and choreographer Stephen Mear uses his company and every inch of the large stage to maintain the action and excitement, and give us a spectacle to match the car flying above. The music is strong and full, with a great band under Andrew Hilton, with some lovely brass arrangements and some good solo work.

The familiar songs, Hushabye Mountain, Truly Scrumptious, and of course the title track itself, fit in well with the newer numbers, and there are plenty of catchy tunes and clever lyrics to add to the witty lines in the script. The car is certainly one of the stars, and the superb design and use of projection helps enhance this, even with a few opening-night hitches – I did miss those signature red and yellow wings, but this is a family show that will probably live in memories every bit as long as the film has in mine these past 48 years.

This particular tour ends at Bristol on Saturday week, 4th February, so try to catch it if you can.


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