Note: This review is for the UK 2021 tour of Bedknobs and Broomsticks
When three orphaned children – Charlie (Conor O’Hara), and his siblings Carrie and Paul* are reluctantly evacuated from wartime London following the death of their parents to live with the eccentric Eglantine Price (Dianne Pilkington), they have no idea what adventures lie ahead. They discover that Eglantine is a trainee witch, who is learning magic from spells she has bought from Emelius Brown (Charles Brunton). Complete with a flying bed, an enchanted bedknob, a broomstick and a book they go on an incredible adventure to find a secret spell that will defeat their enemy, which takes them from Portobello Road to the depths of the beautiful briny sea.
Admittedly I was a little apprehensive before seeing the show. I’ve never really been a fan of the 1971 film starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson and was unsure as to how it would translate to the stage, particularly as delays caused by the pandemic has meant that this is the first ever tour of the production.
Within minutes of the opening scene I instantly knew that any apprehension was unnecessary. What followed was over two hours of possibly the most visually stunning production that I have ever had the privilege to see on stage.
The show takes us on a wild ride with the use of incredible sets, lighting, puppetry (that were so convincing I actually forgot that there were actors on the stage operating them), magic and illusion in which objects seemingly moved all by themselves. The bed (at one point in which five people were sitting on) repeatedly flew around the stage with such ease that I could be forgiven for believing that beds can actually fly.
Including the original songs by the Sherman Brothers, including Portobello Road, The Age Of Not Believing, The Beautiful Briny Sea and Substitutiary Locomotion and new music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill it was a visual spectacular that was brought to life by an incredible cast.
Conor O’Hara as Charlie was fabulous. With a Tommy Steele-esque quality and a cock-e-ney slang, he brought a level of maturity to his performance that was well above his years and experience. Charles Brunton was equally mesmerising as the con-artist Emilius Brown. The star of the show was unequivocally Dianne Pilkington in the lead as Eglantine Price. With a sensation voice that was made for the stage, she led the story with an elegance and charm that can be easily likened to Julie Andrews.
Of course, the show wouldn’t have been nearly as successful had it not been for the overall cast, who were not only responsible for playing multiple roles and singing spectacularly, but for the complicated set changes and use of props, which was done perfectly.
It was a truly wonderful experience to watch – one of my favourites.
*Carrie is played by Isabella Bucknell, Sapphire Hagan, Poppy Haughton and Evie Lightman.
Paul is played by Dexter Barry, Haydn Court, Jasper Hawes and Aidan Oti
Photo credits: Johan Persson
Disclaimer: We were given complimentary tickets to the show, but were under no obligation to provide a positive review.