This latest Disney film is filled with a lot of magical elements that will delight younger audiences but the story has a more grown up feel about it.
Of all the Disney films that I feel doesn’t get enough appreciation it is Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It has a quirky appeal with plenty of magic but equally it shows a company that was trying to appeal to an older audience – those perhaps on the brink of becoming teenagers or as the song goes ‘The Age of Disbelieving’. But it has to be said, this was perhaps not one of the easiest films to bring to the stage and so I was immensely curious to see how it would work.
The story follows that of the Rawlins children: Charlie, Carrie and Paul who are orphaned during the war and sent to the countryside as so many were during the Second World War. They are then introduced to the brisk and mysterious Eglantine Price who has secret work to do for the war effort by using magic and soon they are on a quest to find Professor Emelius Browne, her ex-professor, to find the spell needed to bring inanimate objects to life.
Directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, this is a very ambitious production that not only brings the film to life (although don’t look for the famous football match scene – that would have been extremely difficult to bring to life) but also adds extra depth to the story. This is seen straight from the start with the brilliantly choreographed opening scene that highlights the chaos and horror of the War in a really moving and stylish way. Throughout the whole show, the audience is never allowed to forget the lurking presence of the enemy and regular bombings that went on.
It was always to be expected that this was going to be a show that would have to visually impress. Jamie Harrison’s set and illusion certainly does this – with the way in which characters are transformed into rabbits, the way in which the bed takes flight and the way in which the broom that Miss Price initially tries to ride moves around the set are some of the impressive elements to expect. These moments will fascinate and delight audiences young and old. Meanwhile, Kenneth MacLeod’s puppets are all delightful – in particular the way in which King Leonidas (a lion) , Sherman (a bear) and Norton (a fish) are realised add to the fun of the show. Gabriella Slade’s costumes are a real joy to behold – in particular the colour and vibrancy of those in the ‘Portobello Road’ sequence are impressive.
As well as all the classic songs such as a beautifully poignant ‘The Age of Not Believing’ and the catchy ‘The Beautiful Briny’ written by the Sherman brothers, there are some really lovely new numbers written by Neil Bartram to enjoy as well. In particular, ‘Negotiality’ and ‘A Step in the Right Direction’ really fit in well with the story and the original songs.
In terms of the cast, there is much to be enjoyed from the performances. Dianne Pilkington as Eglantine is delightfully brisk but ensures that the character has warmth about her to make her likeable, as seen through her performance of ‘The Age of not Believing’, while delivering plenty of comical moments with style as seen in Miss Price’s attempts to ride a broomstick. Elsewhere, Charles Brunton is suitably awkward as Emelius Browne who makes the audience smile consistently and Conor O’Hara as Charlie has a cheekiness and vulnerability about him that gives the character real depth.
Overall, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a magical, entertaining but also deeply poignant show that dazzles from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon
Bedknobs and Broomsticks continues to tour across the UK until the 1st May 2022.