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.

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The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap,

The Mousetrap: The Lyric Theatre, The Lowry.

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Reviewed13/05/19

Opening Night star rating: ****

About 25 years back I was watching a TV programme staring Paul Kaye as comic creation Dennis Pennis, a rogue TV presenter who pranked the great and good of the 90’s celebrity world. It wasn’t just famous people who Pennis targeted, but everyday folk too. On one occasion he accosted some old ladies as they were about to see The Mousetrap and committed the cardinal sin of revealing who the killer was!  As a teenager it was hilarious, if slightly mean spirited yet little did I realise that many years later I’d be going to see probably the world’s most famous “whodunit” already knowing the ending. (Shame on you Paul Kaye).

You see despite a near 70 year run and smashing a whole host of records, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap has one of the best kept secrets in theatreland. The fact that it still has the ability to shock and surprise in the modern world shows just how revered the play is and on the basis of tonight’s production it’s easy to see why.

It begins at Monkswell Manor, a converted guest house in the country ran by a young couple, Mollie and Giles Ralston (Harriet Hare and Nick Biadon). They are preparing for the arrival of their first guests to the house, but a nasty snowstorm is hampering their preparations. At the very start of the performance we hear the news through the radio that a woman named Maureen Lyon has been murdered in London. This broadcast is repeated as the guests been to arrive: who include Major Metcalf (John Griffiths), a mischievous architect named  Christopher Wren (Lewis Chandler), a no nonsense battle-axe of a women in Mrs Boyle (Gwyneth Strong), the private and guarded Miss Casewell (Saskia Vagncourt-Strallen), and finally the Mr Paravicini (David Alcock) a mysterious traveller who is caught up in the snow storm.

As the weather worsens word reaches the house that the police are sending an officer, a Sergeant Trotter (Geoff Arnold). When Trotter arrives, he explains that there is a link between the recently diseased Mrs Lyons and Monkswell Manor, his theory is later proven when one of the guests is strangled. The big question is will Trotter be able to solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?

The Mousetrap,

What instantly strikes you about this production is just how much fun it is and that’s down to the direction of Gareth Armstrong: he allows the cast to play it straight when required but also to poke fun at the genre, never really taking itself too seriously. The ensemble cast are superb, traversing the tightrope between ‘hamming it up’ and paying respect to this well-established theatrical institution.

As one might expect with an Agatha Christie, the script is littered with clues, red herrings and the key element of suspense that will keep you guessing throughout. There is some rather clunky and at times dated dialogue which the cast play for laughs, albeit with dead pan seriousness, which again only adds the enjoyment.

Because the murder mystery genre is one, we are so familiar with, it’s easy to forget that Christie is arguably the main reason we know its troupes so well, however director Gareth Armstrong has manged to keep it fresh, entertaining and certainly well worth catching. Despite knowing the identity of the villain, it still managed to come as a surprise which is of course down to Christie’s criminal mind. Based on this production The Mousetrap still has plenty of life in the old girl yet, unlike the late Mrs Lyons!

The Mousetrap is on at the Lyric Theatre, the Lowry till 18th May. Tickets available here:

https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-mousetrap/