Filled with dazzling choreography, plenty of magic and charm – this is fun for the entire family.
If you like me were expecting this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical to be exactly like the film – then think again but the differences in the story structure and the addition of new songs actually make the story feel fresher and suitable for a more modern audience.
The Banks family not only have problems in keeping hold of a nanny to look after Jane and Michael – but also have trouble in communicating with each other and being isolated from each other which is where Mary Poppins flies in to try and save the day with the help of a little magic and some special adventures. What makes this version feel refreshing though is the way in which while it retains much of the Disney fun it feels as though there is links to PL Travers stories that gives the plot itself and the messages it conveys a little more weight thanks to Julian Fellowes’s nicely written and heartfelt book that structurally changes the positions of songs and elements of the story to great effect.
Directed with great perkiness by Richard Eyre, there is plenty to admire visually. I adored the way in which Bob Crowley’s set designs cleverly changes locations seamlessly – but particularly the way in which the Banks’s family home opens up just like an Edwardian doll’s house is particularly delightful and unleashed a childlike joy in me. But the way in which the production uses colour effectively to punctuate certain points – for example the vibrancy of colour during the ‘Jolly Holiday’ sequence makes for a striking contrast for all the scenes set in the bank – means that the balance of ensuring that this is a show that is designed to entertain but also to reinforce the importance of family, compassion and kindness is just right.
The first act feels as though on occasion it gets overly heavy with messages that it wants the audience to take away from it – but this earnestness can be part of its charm as well. As seen in the scene in which Mr Banks chooses to offer help to a man wanting to open up more factories to help employ more people as opposed to a cold character just looking for a quick way to make money, it feels very grounded and well intentioned.
But of course – it is the musical numbers and choreography that is a real strength of the production. Things such as the clever illusions for the way in which the kitchen is put back together during ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ sequence and the elegant playfulness of Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear’s choreography for numbers such as ‘Jolly Holiday’ and ‘Step in Time’ are really joyful to watch – ensuring that the magic feels real no matter what age you are.
Making her West End debut in the role of Mary Poppins, Monique Young gives a warm and delicate performance – highlighting Mary’s prim and proper ways but never coming across as cold – there was certainly no hint of nerves on display. Her lovely vocals are a brilliant match for songs such as ‘Practically Perfect’ and ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ – she is certainly one to watch out for in future West End shows. Elsewhere, it is always a delight to see Charlie Stemp on stage – his cheeky and cheerful persona ideal for the character of Bert, while his dancing is sublime as seen in ‘Step in Time’ which sees his literally dancing upside down. There is also excellent support from Amy Griffiths as the despairing Mrs Banks and Charlie Anson as the stiff and somewhat moody Mr Banks.
Overall, it is a wonderful and practically perfect in every way musical and is worth a watch for everyone of all ages.
By Emma Clarendon