Jane Oriel is at the Wales Millennium Centre for a performance of Disney’s Mary Poppins, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and starring Zizi Strallen.
As this hair-raising, hyperactive year draws to a close, a bit of fairy tale, fantasy security goes down a treat tonight – with or without a spoonful of sugar.
The Banks family are what the 21stC would call dysfunctional. Dad’s married to his job, the kids run riot and mum feels as abandoned and as unloved as the children. But Mary Poppins, played by Zizi Strallen, is here to tell them (and any of us listening) that families work better if they make time for each other.
Blending elements from the 1964 Disney film with the original PL Travers books, new material and a bunch of new songs with the same flavour have been added. All the leading roles are played with expressive aplomb and tonight’s rotational pair of children playing Jane and Michael Banks are utterly wonderful and incredibly hard working. They play and sing their parts with enthusiastic, professional conviction and dance some very complicated routines, not least a super-charged “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, that has the ensemble throwing fast moving body-shapes for each letter of the word. This thrilling set-piece draws roars of the approval from the audience.
A stage show can’t replicate Disney’s movie magic but it’s a warm thrill when, yes, she really does produce a tall hat stand from her carpet bag and a completely wrecked kitchen miraculously returns to working order with “A Spoon Full of Sugar”. The super-nanny even slides up the banister with improbable ease.
Bert the artist, chimney sweep and Mary’s sweetheart, is the personification of the jolly Cockney, despite being played by Australian, Matt Lee. He and his sweep mates perform a rhythmically frantic tap-dance across the rooftops of London. Then, Bert (on wires) strolls up one side of the proscenium arch, to then walk and sing upside along the top before jauntily promenading down the other raising gasps and cheers from all.
This is a full-on West End theatre show transposed in its entirety to Cardiff Bay. Cameron Mackintosh has a legendary name in creating long running shows that capture the public imagination like this, and with co-direction and choreography from Sir Matthew Bourne, the quality reputation is well deserved.
Apart from the cast’s riveting performances, praise must be given to the set designers. Each scene change is fluid as they dovetail swiftly into the next. Behaving like the pages of a pop-up children’s book, three floors and two exteriors of the Banks’ home are happened upon almost immediately.
At this time of year, and as we crave a safe familiarity, hunkering down on a dark winter day with Mary Poppins is the perfect Christmas family treat.
Mary Poppins is on until 14 January 2017
Image credit: Johannes Persson
Jane Oriel is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.