Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Confession time foks, I’ll lay my cards on the table from the get go, I haven’t seen the 1971 cinema release of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Sure I’ve seen The Beautiful Briny Seasequence from old Disney compilation programmes they used to put on TV way back when. So I went into the live theatre show not really knowing what to expect in the way of plot, themes, or production, and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed, this was the perfect piece of escapism theatre, much needed for young and old alike.

Set during the blitz, the show opens with a fantastic 10 minute speech free sequence that sees the Rawlins’ siblings, Charlie, Carrie, and Paul orphaned during an air raid and moved from London out to the countryside. The children are understandably traumatised by recent events and apprehensive about the future. Here they encounter Mrs Hobday (Jacqui Dubois), who informs the children that they are to be placed in the care of the rather mysterious and eccentric Eglantine Price, (Dianne Pilkington).

Miss Price seems to be the recipient of lots of packages, including a broomstick, from a professor Emelius Brown (Charles Brunton), in London. Eglantine has a spell that she believes will end the war, and the needless killing war brings, but she’ll need the help of the children and the Professor. So begins an adventure that will take the children back to London, under the ocean, and to the mysterious island of Nepeepo. Can this quintet end the war as well as find something they all need,  a family.

This is a production of the highest quality, from the hugely entertaining, song-and dance routines, mesmerising puppetry to magical set pieces. In addition some beautiful costumes and set designs capped off with some wonderful performances, it’s truly a feast for the eyes and ears!

Dianne Pilkington is perfectly cast as witch in training, Eglantine Price, her turn on A Step in The Right Direction, sets up a performance that is fun yet vulnerable and quirky, which in less capable hands could become irritating, but Pilkington manges this perfectly. The chemistry between her and Charles Brunton, develops naturally and doesn’t seem forced. Brunton is equally as good as the charming yet unlikely hero Emelius Brown.

It can often be distracting when an older actor plays a teenager in productions and at first I must admit I was a little taken back by Conor O’Hara as eldest sibling, Charlie, however O’Hara provides much needed depth to the role. He reminded me of a young Jim Dale, which very much played to the nostalgic element of the production, and is certainly no negative criticism.

There are plenty of song and dance numbers throughout, with stand out numbers, being the full company rendition of Portobello Road, which showcases the fantastic work of all the ensemble cast, and the stunning costume design of Gabriella Slade. Whilst Emelius and Eglantine highlight the exceptional puppet designs of Kennth Macleod.

However it’s not just big show stoppers that Bedknobs and Broomsticks gets right, the downbeat soulful, Nobody’s Problem, by our heroic fivesome, sets up the final act perfectly.

What elevates this production to the next level is the magical input of Jamie Harrison, flying beds, unruly brooms and a truly magical, jaw-dropping and well crafted finale.

With the current situation in the world, a great deal of the plot seems to resonate more than it would in normal times (whatever that is these days) and packs more of a punch. However this is a good old-fashioned romantic adventure story, filled with charm, whimsy and hope, which will enthral, enchant and entertain children (and adults) of all ages.

Bedknobs and and Broomsticks is on in the Lyric Theatre at The Lowry until 19th March 2022 tickets available here.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If there’s one thing theatre audiences love, it’s a Disney adaptation. From full-scale productions such as the long-running Lion King to the newly opened five-star smash, Frozen, right through to magical musical numbers and glittering finale scenes in local pantos; Disney’s influence runs right through British family theatre and is often the first theatrical experience many children have.

Latest adaptation, Bedknobs and Broomsticks flew into Manchester’s this week, stopping at the Palace Theatre on it’s World Premiere UK tour, amazing to think despite celebrating it’s 50th anniversary there’s never been a full-scale production before!

While the lesser recreated of the Sherman Brothers penned Disney hits (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) it’s charm and appeal have made it a firm favourite for fans, while it’s classic score is still a childhood staple. Yes, the plot is a bit bonkers at times, but for many that’s a huge part of this cult classic’s charm.

Film fans will be happy to hear that this stage adaptation remains largely faithful to the film with some padding out of backstories which works beautifully.

Set in the 1940’s, evacuees and siblings Charlie, Carrie and Paul have been sent to the countryside after losing their parents during an air raid in London. Miss Eglantine Price takes them in and they soon discover all is not as it seems as apprentice witch Price reveals she just needs one final spell from former tutor Professor Emelius Browne in order to use her magic in a bid to help the war effort. With the help of an enchanted bedknob their adventures begin!

Additional songs by Neil Bartram fit well with the much-loved classics, Portobello Road, The Beautiful Briny, The Age Of Not Believing and my personal favourite Substitutiary Locamotion with new addition Negotiality feeling like it’s been there all along.

Jamie Harrison’s impressive set and dazzling illusions really add to the magic of the piece. The bed really does fly as does Miss Price who swoops up into the air on her broomstick and as for the final battle scene, well seeing really is believing!

Gabriella Slade’s costumes are stunning, intricate, elaborate and utterly gorgeous while there’s a wonderful use of puppetry weaved into the production. Designer Kenneth MacLeod has created some spectacular puppets while the cast bringing them magically to living, breathing life. Norton the Fish portrayed fabulously by Rob Madge deserving of a spin off show of their own! While actors being turned into rabbits right before your eyes is a whole lot of fun! This really is physical theatre at its finest.

Dianne Pilkington is sublime as Miss Englantine Price, witty, charismatic and with a voice that’s pure perfection. Charles Brunton compliments her wonderfully as Emelius Browne, his eccentricities and magic skills endearing him to the audience immediately.

Conor O’Hara gives eldest child Charlie true depth as he demonstrates powerfully the influence war has on the life of a child. His journey as Charlie breathing fresh ideas into to this classic tale.

The quieter moments are given the time that they deserve to be impactful while the big full ensemble numbers really take the entertainment levels up a notch. The Portabello Road scene and the Beautiful Briny dance competition are a joy and leave you wishing there were a few more full ensemble numbers to enjoy. I must also mention how wonderful it is to see such a representative cast on stage, more of this please!

The ensemble work hard in this show, moving sets and becoming scenery throughout. This took a little getting used to and on occasion felt like there was a little too much to look at. The pace of Act 1 slows a little at times while Act 2 burst into gorgeous, glittering life and before you know it the bows are being taken.

This is a beautifully crafted show, technically brilliant, superbly designed and wonderfully delivered. There’s peril, romance, incredible puppetry and thrilling magic. Film fans will come away happy while an army of new fans no doubt will be gained. An enchanting production which will delight young and old alike.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is on at the Palace Theatre until Sunday 24th October tickets available here.