Nottingham Theatre Royal – until Sunday 10 October 2021
Reviewed by Louise Ford
Beautiful Briny Ballroom
The original 1971 Disney film is a family favourite. It was hard to imagine how it would be transferred to the stage with its mixture of magic, flying beds, underwater scenes and cartoon animals . Well the power of theatre didn’t disappoint. The new musical based on the books by Mary Norton, adapted by Brian Hill, with original songs by the Sherman Brothers and additional songs by Neil Bartram started its UK tour in August . It has been brought to the stage by theatre-makers Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison.
The stage is set with the brass bed with gleaming bedknobs in an attic bedroom . The Rawlings children (Charlie, Carrie and Paul) are reading a pop up book looked on by their parents. In the background there is the silhouette of St Paul’s and a London skyline. The peaceful scene is shattered by bombing and warplanes (cleverly manoeuvred around on handheld rods). The set is shattered as is the family to leave the Rawlings children orphaned.
The children are evacuated by train, from the city to the countryside. Alone at the post office in the village of Pepperinge Eye on the Dorset coast they await their fate . They are billeted to Miss Eglantine Price (Dianne Pilkington) who arrives to pick up her latest parcel from London. Miss Eglantine bursts on to the stage in a glorious outfit (tailored purple tweed two piece, a natty hat all with contrast gloves and trim), this contrasts nicely with the locals ‘brown’ outfits. The costumes (by Gabriella Slade) are a real treat. The knitwear worn by the children is fabulous!
The four of them leave the village on Miss Eglantine’s motorcycle and sidecar, toot toot!
Let the adventures begin.
The story isn’t hard to follow and moves along at a reasonable pace. The fist half sets the scene for the action of the second half. The ensemble performance when the family are back in London, meeting Emelius Browne (Charles Brunson) hunting down the missing spells of Portobello Road is a riot of colour, swirling handcarts and dance (choreographed by Neil Bettles).
The second half starts underwater as the family journey to the Nopeepo Lagoon on their way to Nopeepo Land. The dance competition all sequins, swirling seaweed and handheld fish was my favourite scene.
The set design and illusions by Jamie Harrison are an absolute delight. From the quick set change, twirling doors, puppetry, sleight of hand magic to the flying broomstick (how did that happen?) and of course the flying brass bedstead (how did they do that?).
The adventures and magic cleverly distract from the Nazi threat and we have almost forgotten Miss Eglatine’s mission to magic a defence against this menace. Fear not once back on dry land there is a fine finale of magic. All’s well that ends well and the family are reunited and leave in the trusty motorcycle and side car!