In Review

Bedknobs and Broomsticks on stage: ‘a B-list Disney film, but an A-list adaptation’

There are some odd tonal shifts, but this musical has ‘undeniable charm and wit‘

“You wait Covid-protracted ages for a dash of Disney stage-magic and all at once you get a meteor-shower’s worth,” said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. Richard Eyre’s magical Mary Poppins is back in the West End. The long-awaited Frozen is in previews at Drury Lane. And out on the road, criss-crossing the UK until May 2022, is this sumptuous stage version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the much-loved 1971 film musical starring Angela Lansbury.

Right from the “bravura” opening scene, the show’s a “triumph”, said Gary Naylor on The Arts Desk. Children will be dazzled by the magnificent illusions and effects; parents will enjoy the glitzy costumes and design, and “everyone will marvel at the extraordinarily expressive puppets”. Big touring shows like this often promise much but fail to deliver, but this one really is a wonderful “night out for all the family”.

Bedknobs has always been in the shadow of Mary Poppins, which was a bigger film hit, said Daniella Harrison on What’s On Stage. Yet both feature songs by the Sherman Brothers, and they have a broadly similar dramatic arc. In Bedknobs, three London siblings are evacuated from wartime London after their parents are killed in a bombing raid. They discover that their rural host is an apprentice witch determined to use her magical powers to beat the Nazis – and various adventures ensue.

There are some odd tonal shifts, but the piece has “undeniable charm and wit”. And this adaptation is “as good if not better than its screen counterpart”. It retains the film’s “eccentricities”, but has a tighter narrative arc – as well as “plenty of magic and wonder, spellbinding illusions and a shining cast”.

I’m afraid I didn’t love it, said Chris Wiegand in The Guardian. There are additional songs that aren’t as “instantly hummable” as the originals, and the structure and staging feel “cumbersome” at times. Still, the “spectacle and the acting and singing keep your pecker up even when the storytelling lollops”, said Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Dianne Pilkington is “outstanding” as the amateur witch Eglantine Price – making a “highly technical role look effortless”.

And the sheer “vim and theatricality” of the direction, by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison (who also designed the sets and effects), is a joy. The gasps just keep coming, as characters get turned into rabbits and the bed achieves lift-off. And when Brian Hill’s script reveals its “emotional” climax, the “bogginess of the middle section” is forgotten. “A B-list Disney film, perhaps, but an A-list adaptation.”

Touring until 1 May 2022 (bedknobsonstage.com)

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