chitty

Caractacus Potts, played by Lee Mead, with Truly Scrumptious, played by Carrue Hope Fletcher and Aaron Gelkoff and Daisy Riddet as Jeremy and Jemima . . . and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Pictures: Alastair Muir

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

WHAT magical, marvellous, truly scrumptious entertainment for all the family, jam packed with not just a feel good but a feel even better factor.

A wonderful set, a flying car, an evil child catcher, a toy obsessed baron and his psychotic wife, dastardly spies with all the gump of house bricks, heroes and heroines, goodies and baddies, singing, dancing and a plot that races along in a whirl of glorious fun and familair songs – so what is not to like?

Based on the 1968 film, which was based on Ian Flemming’s 1964 novel, this is a new production of the tale of the famed Grand child catcherPrix winning racing car saved from the scrap heap after a crash and then restored by inventor extraordinaire Caractacus Potts and made into a magical flying car.

The only problem is that the ruler of Vulgaria has his heart set on the car, setting in train a ripping yarn of adventure and derring do.

Lee Mead makes a splendid Caractacus; he’s personable, likeable and has a fine singing voice, as confirmed by the four albums to his name already.

Press night saw Darcy Snares as Jemima and Elliot Morris as Jeremy, the two Potts’ children, and what a grand job they made of the roles, acting like . . . well children, which is not as easy as it sounds. The talented pair are one of three teams playing the roles.

Mr Congeniality himself, the child catcher played menacingly by Matt Gillett

Carrie Hope Fletcher has come from Éponine in Les Misérables in the West End to the role of Truly Scrumptious, bringing with her not only a fine singing voice but a delightful charm. The West End’s loss, our gain.

And completing the goodies we have Grandpa Potts, Andy Hockley, who spends his time between India, which seems to resemble a small upright shed with porcelain fittings, and his family, in a nicely balanced performance as the old Colonial army veteran.

Black hearted and black suited and booted baddy is Matt Gillett, suitably booed at the end – the sign of an excellent lord of the dark side. He is the scrap man who wanted to turn Chitty into a block of iron and, as the action heads to Vulgaria, he transforms into the child catcher, turning children into . . . at this point it is best to just shudder.

And ruling Vulgaria, Vulgar as they come, are Phill Jupitas and Claire Sweeney as Baron and Baroness Bomburst, producing a fine double act with some clever comic touches creating a sort of amusing dictatorship.

He loves toys, birthdays, and toys, and toys . . . lots of them which is just as well for the Vulgar toymaker as the Baroness hates children and has banned them from the realm, a ban enforced by the Child Catcher – cue scary music.

She is interested in . . . well as this is a family show, we’ll just leave it at that, which is also what the Baron does, incidentally.

His overriding passion is Chitty, his ultimate toy, and he sends his spies to capture both the car and the inventor, a move which, if nothing else, shows the Baron suffers from either an unnatural degree of optimism or a serious mental disorder . . . or both.

Sweeney, showing a fine fair of legs and lungs in the Brazilian birthday dance, gives us pure unadulterated ham, avoiding getting too close to the bone - a lovely comic performance from the pair of them.

But when it comes to double acts Sam Harrison and Scott Paige take the honours as the bumbling secret(ish) agents Boris and Goran, masters of bad disguise and fiendishly worse plots.

The pair are marvelously funny with some witty lines and visual humour and bring spiesa smile whenever they appear on stage, as spies go they are real Smiley people.

There is good support from the likes of Ewen Cummins as first Bill Coggins who owns the garage and sells the wrecked Chitty to Caractacus, and then as the Toymaker, helping the children saved from the catcher and living in the sewers beneath the castle.

And the fine ensemble enter into things with gusto in some fine song and dance numbers from choreographer Stephen Mear.

All pumped up for action, the super spies Boris and Goran played by Sam Harrison and Scott Paige

Director James Brining, who also directed the acclaimed The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Birmingham Rep, has kept up a splendid pace.

He brings a nice rhythm to the production all helped by a stunning set from Simon Higlett which transforms in moments from garage to the Potts’ workshop to sweet factory, fairground, beach, Vulgaria and sewers all enhanced by Simon Wainwright’s imaginative full stage video projections.

Hushabye Mountain might have been simple but it was a particularly effective scene, beautifully sung by Mead.

It is all helped by a 12 piece orchestra under musical director Andrew Hilton, which is huge by modern touring standards and it shows in the fine sound they produce.

It might be a bit silly, well a lot silly really, but it is great fun and although it is a children’s story, and you know the ending, you actually care about the characters in this fine West Yorkshire Playhouse production. It might have been born in Leeds but the production values are West End through and through. An evening of delight. To 18-09-16

Roger Clarke

07-09-16

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