Celebrating 100 years of Roald Dahl, Jemma Beggs reviews the centenary production of the classic musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
As one of the screenwriters of the original 1968 film, this spectacular production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang forms part of Wales Millennium Centre’s ongoing Roald Dahl Centenary celebrations. Retaining all the charm and magic of the original musical, whilst incorporating new twists and flourishes, James Brining has directed a show certain to enchant children and adults alike.
All the iconic musical numbers are brought vividly to life by the magnificent live orchestra and Stephen Mear’s sensational choreography. We are treated to a smorgasbord of different dance styles; Toot Sweets’ beautiful ballet, a vaudevillian influenced Act English, Me Ol’ Bamboo’s high-octane tap number and The Bombie Samba’s sultry Brazillian ballroom. One of the most beautiful scenes of the show is Carrie Hope Fletcher’s performance of Doll on a Music Box as the beautiful Truly Scrumptious, the precision of her mechanical movements creating a flawless and breathtakingly realistic doll-like effect. Truly’s character has had somewhat of a modern makeover with her respectable motorcar replaced by a more daring motorcycle and the majority of her costumes consisting of a more practical trouser/skirt hybrid.
Indeed, all the characters’ costumes have been updated, courtesy of designer Simon Higlett. They are still, for the most part, of the time period in which the show is set, although this has been advanced to 1919 to feature after WWI instead of before. Matt Gillett as The Childcatcher is reminiscent of a Tim Burton character, with his dramatic make-up, sweeping black coat and quirky top hat. He plays the part to perfection, receiving a chorus of good-natured boos at the final curtain. Scott Paige bears a somewhat alarming resemblance to the Go Compare Man in his get-up as Goran, although thankfully this is where the similarities end. Scott Paige and Sam Harrison almost steal the show as the Vulgarian spies Goran and Boris – an impressive feat amidst such an array of talent. Their over the top, slapstick comedy and exaggerated affectations are hilarious, with some of their more adult jokes inspiring spontaneous rounds of applause from the audience.
The energy levels of the cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang never waver throughout the show, every member giving a polished and professional performance, including the children. Opening night saw Hayden Goldberg and Caitlin Surtees as Jeremy and Jemima Potts, although this will be rotated between three pairs for the duration of the musical’s run. The professionalism of the show also extends to the high number of impressively quick set changes as entire sets are transformed in an unbelievably small amount of time; the fact the transformations are always impossible to anticipate only adding to the magic.
Simon Wainwright’s video design plays a key role in creating the illusion of one of the most iconic aspects of the musical – the flying car. A moving video-projected wall behind the car emulates a flight simulator so it appears Chitty is racing through the clouds, although the projection of the drawings over the existing set sometimes proves distracting as grass and sky mingle with buildings. The ship chase, however, is thrilling; smoke billowing across the stage, thunder and lightning splitting the stormy sky, as Chitty is relentlessly pursued on the orders of Baron and Baroness Bomburst. The pair, played by Shaun Williamson and Claire Sweeney, make for ideal children’s story villains – their diabolical plans tempered by their comedic incompetence.
The performance portrays all the key elements of the famous story; old school comedy, adventure, romance and the wonderful feats that can be accomplished when family stick together. One of the most heart-warming scenes is Lee Mead’s gorgeous rendition of Hushabye Mountain – the lullaby Caractacus Potts sings to his children to send them to sleep. Accompanied by a beautiful projected drawing of a sailing boat, the invisible screen creates the magical illusion that the boat is floating in mid-air between the windows of the set. Mead is a fantastic Caractacus, lovably eccentric, much like his father, Grandpa Potts, played by Andy Hockley.
With a standing ovation on its opening evening, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a truly scrumptious showstopper sure to bring the house down night after night.
(Image credit: Alistair Muir)
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As part of our celebrations of the Roald Dahl centenary, in partnership with Cardiff University, Ben Screech explores Roald Dahl’s extensive use of the ‘cautionary tale’ throughout his career.
This piece is a part of Wales Arts Review’s collection, Roald Dahl | A Retrospective.
Jemma Beggs is a contributor to Wales Arts Review.