(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 1 July)
it’s almost a case of anything which cinema and CGI can do, a really imaginative live stage production can do better. The new touring production of Mary Poppins may be based on the famous Disney film, but it oozes a very special kind of magic all of its own.
Some of this is definitely due to Zizi Strallen’s stunningly good performance in the title role – there’s a healthy dose of acidity as well as sweetness in her portrait – but Bob Crowley’s set and costume designs (adapted by Rosalind Coombes and Matt Kinley) – so deceptively simple yet so complex and intricate – also play their part.
Musical director Ian Townsend makes the orchestra a distinct balancing party, aided by some strong singing voices among the principals. Grainne Renihan as the bird woman with her balad-like “Feed the birds” and Penelope Woodman’s Miss Andrew dispensing “Brimstone and treacle” in double doses stand out here.
The two young Banks children on the opening night were Georgie Hill as Jane and Jabez Cheeseman as her brother Michael. Their parents – bank clerk George and reluctantly stay-at-home wife Winifred – are also well sung and acted by Milo Twomey and Rebecca Lock. Matt Lee is an engaging Bert, a factotum who, like Mary Poppins herself, is not quite of this world.
Yves Adang leads the exceptionally strong male dance and song chorus, making the most of Matthew Bourne’s choreography, notably in the park scenes where the statues come to life. Projections (Luke Halls) and some brilliant lighting and special effects by Natasha Katz and Simon Sherriff help to transport the audience into the story’s parallel worlds.
Early 20th century London is shown to be outwardly a sombre place, with black-suited clerks and businessmen drudging away in their offices while equally dark-clothed women exercise their pet dogs and push babies in their prams for their daily constitutionals.
The brilliance of the transformation into eye-blinking colour during the first park scene is the sort of effect which lingers in the memory (and imagination)just as much as the flying effects and the clever use of house levels. The standing ovation at the end of the Norwich first night was, for once, fully justified.
Mary Poppins runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 30 July with matinées on 2, 7, 9, 14, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30 July.