CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG

The London Palladium, Thursday 18 March 2004

 

Review by Emma Shane

© March 2004

 

Sixteen years after (that famous flop) Ziegfeld, Louise Gold roars back into The London Palladium in a hit showís cast change. Not having seen any of the previous casts, means I canít compare the new cast to their predecessors, but from what Iíve seen, we seem to be on to a winner in this extraordinary concoction of a show. Although ostensibly a Ďchildrenís musicalí, itís really a family show, and like many of the best family shows there are plenty of jokes for grown-ups too. There is also a lot in it for musical-theatre-buffs, since in this production at least, there seems to be a lot of bits and pieces (including characters) which could have come almost straight out of other shows. I spotted elements possibly from: Allo Allo, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam, Cats, Les Misberables, Morecambe And Wise, My Fair Lady, and Oliver, as well as Mary Poppins or was it Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Cabaret or possibly The Producers, not to mention the odd Savoy Opera, perhaps The Mikado or The Gondoliers. But somehow this peculiar combination seems to work.

 

As the original Chitty was a racing car, the show opens with the ensemble on stage, where-else but at the race-track. Amongst the ensemble, almost blending in, are The Vulgarian entourage, including two of our principals, The Baron and Baroness, who of course never quite blend in, and it is they, with their entourage, who lead the company in the Opening. Tall as any of the men (five foot nine plus stilettos) Louise Gold is distinctive, but excellent, and I must single her out for good diction. Too often itís her weakness, but tonight itís just fine; well done. In this scene at least she spoke with something like what seems to be most of the castís standard idea of a Vulgarian accent too (well actually it sounded uncannily like Nazi Private Elsa Bergsten in Allo Allo). I also noticed her rolling and flexing her broad shoulders distinctively. Meanwhile, Graham Hoadly is providing a running commentary about the race. The main contenders are the British and Vulgarian cars, then the British car spins out of control, we all know The Vulgarians must be behind this. As we learn in the next scene, the nobbled the British car.

††††††††††††††† Two children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts, portrayed tonight by Daniel Bartlett and Isabel Wroe Wright, are playing on the old racing car in a scrap yard, the owner, Coggins, played well enough by Ray C Davis has to sell it, for forty shillings. Enter a woman with a motorcycle and sidecar, looking a bit like a companion out of Dr Who. Such is Scarlett Strallenís stage presonce, we immediately know this must be Truly Scrumptious. She borrows a spanner, provoking a few comments from Coggins about women fixing things, to his surprise she does fix her bike, and gives the children a lift home. In front of the drapes two Vulgarian Spies Boris and Goran, played by Richard Long and Christopher Ryan, reveal themselves, at last theyíve found the whereabouts of that car, and all they have to do is get forty shillings in English money to buy it.

††††††††††††††† At The windmill, Caractacus Potts, the inventor is fiddling with his inventions; Truly turns up with the children. Scarlett dominates the scene, although Gary Wilmot acts Caractacuswith a convincing likeability. He shows off his sweet making machine, but it accidentally produces a stick with holes in it. Truly leaves him to it. Caractacus and the children get their meal ready, with the aid of a spinning table, and a Ďfood machineí, You Too, a fine piece of fun, well performed by all, especially Isabel Wroe Wright as Jemima. Grandpa, played by Tony Adams, joins them for the meal and immediately establishes his character: ex-army and forever telling tales about how he shot and elephant in his pyjamas etc etc. The children and Caractacus climb the stairs to bed, while Grandpa finds the sweet stick with holes, and realises it could play a tune, at last his son may have actually invented something that works, Them Three.

††††††††††††††† Caractacus and the children pay a visit to Lord Scrumptiousís sweet factory, to try and sell him the invention. For the adults this scene is a great one for both bureaucratic and sales pitch jokes. Phillips, the secretary or whatever, played by Graham Hoadly, who looks like heís stepped out of a Dickens musical is unwilling to let them in. They canít see Lord Scrumptious without an appointment, and they canít make an appointment without an appointment to make an appointment, which are only offered on certain days. But Truly turns up and takes them in with her. Lord Scrumptious, played quite well by David Henry, wants them thrown out, but Truly persuades him to give them a chance. Caractacus fails to sell the idea in the allotted 20 seconds, but Truly and the children hastily distribute the Toot Sweets amongst the factory workers. This is a wonderfully over the top production number, in sales-pitch speak you might describe it as Walt Disney meets Matthew Bourne. Then, as a result of the whistles a bunch of performing dogs (possibly Terriers - now thatís a word I never thought Iíd get in a show review on this website) run on stage. One of them even runs onto the apron round the orchestra pit. Itís no good, Lord Scrumptious isnít going to by them.

††††††††††††††† In front of the drapes, having got the money, Boris and Goran realise they need to Act English if they are to succeed in buying the car, even Coggins wouldnít sell it to a Vulgarian (as they nobbled it). Lyrically this is a funny number, especially if you happen to like P G Wodehouse, or boarding school stories of the Daisy Pulls It Off era. Unfortunately, Iím not sure if it was due to the sound balance, or Richard Long and Christopher Ryanís diction, but I had difficulty actually hearing a number of the lyrics. Given their difference in height to each other, their double act seems to be a sort of take-off of Morecambe And Wise in places, this will probably work better as the run goes on, one hopes.

††††††††††††††† Back at the windmill, Caractacus sings the children to sleep with Hushabye Mountain. This is one moment in the show where Gary Wilmot really stands out like a proper Lead. It reminded me a little of Annie Get Your Gun (because of that showís Moonshine Lullaby). There was about to be another more obvious element from that legendary musical. Caractacus is off to the funfair to work, Come To The Funfair. On come various members of the ensemble dressed as fairground workers, and fairgoers. The one I noticed the most, amongst these, was a young woman in tailored buckskin dress, a felt hat, long red plaits, and round her waist a belt with a holster containing a pistol. A sharpshooter in a circus act? with an obvious resemblance to Annie Oakley (who incidentally really did have ginger hair, and for a time performed with The Sells Brothers Circus). Caractacus cycles in with an automatic hair cutter he has invented, and Violet, played by Catie Marie Entwhistle persuades Jaymez Denningís Sid to be the victim. Unfortunately the machine overdoes things, and Sid is bald. Caracatacus flees through the fair ground, joining in what I take to be morris dancers, Me Olí Bamboo. If it were not for his different costume Gary Wilmot might well blend in, and he dances well. At last he is caught by a Turkey Farmer, well played by Cliff Bryshaw, who wants to buy the machine , itís perfect for plucking turkeys. He willingly pays forty shillings.

††††††††††††††† At the Windmill, Grandpa is doing his best to take care of the children, Caractacus is too busy tinkering with a machine down in his basement laboratory. The cleaning machine has broken down, so they have to do the housework themselves, Posh, this is an amusing little number, for Tony Adams, Isabel Wroe Wright and Daniel Bartlett. Then itís time for bed, Hushabye Mountain. Tony Adams does not appear to sing it as well as Gary Wilmot did earlier, but that is probably intentional on his part. It certainly gives Isabel Wroe Wright a moment to shine when Jemima, and Jeremy, tell him off for not remembering the words. Meanwhile, behind a bush, the Vulgarian spies are on the telephone to Vulgaria arranging to steal the car.

††††††††††††††† The food machine isnít working properly either, but the next morning, who should turn up at the windmill, in time for breakfast, but Truly Scrumptious, with a basket of food. Caractacus finally emerges, with his surprise. Up through the stage rises the car heís been working on. ďIt was a racing car, now itís a sort of family carĒ. He tries to start her up, Grandpa gets covered in oil; Presently the children discover you have to say ďpleaseĒ to the car, then it will work. On the third attempt, this time with the magic word ďpleaseĒ (I particularly noticed Isabel here) it starts. Soon the engine is ticking over, talking. Itís saying its name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Quite a few of the audience started trying to clap along with the famous title song, but soon quieten down in amazement, while the car turns around on a turntable. Grandpa decides to ďgo off to IndiaĒ (his euphemism for having forty winks, I think). Meanwhile the children clamber into the back, with Trulyís basket, Truly joins Caractacus, who tells everyone to ďbelt upĒ, in the front, and off they go to the seaside. At the seaside they have a lovely picnic, which the children describe as being literally Truly Scrumptious. Caractacus chides them, but Trulyís response is to join in the song, sheís used to it, and here Scarlett Strallen gets the one moment in the entire show where an actor could truly be like their character. Her name may be a little odd, but itís not as outlandish as her sistersí.

††††††††††††††† However, thereís trouble looming, the picnic party have been caught by the incoming tide. The children ask Chitty to please save them. Suddenly to nearly everyoneís surprise, Chitty sprouts a hover cushion beneath itself and floats on the water. The only problem is a Vulgarian ship on the prowl (doors at the back of the stage fold to become the large shipís stern), in pursuit of Chitty, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Nautical Reprise). But Chitty isnít a magic car for nothing, and eventually outruns the ship.

††††††††††††††† Over in Vulgaria, we finally get the Baron and Baroness Bombust in council. This time, as she isnít wearing a hat, we can see that Louiseís wonderful chestnut curls are hidden under a greyish light purple wig, which I thought was rather a shame (on the showís publicity photos she doesnít wear the wig). I canít really remember whether Louise Gold was using a customary Vulgarian accent at this point, I think she was, though Iím not certain. I was just rather glad to see her on stage again. She doesnít exactly get much to do in Act 1. There is also a problem. Not only does the car float it also has... The Baron almost canít bring himself to tell the Baroness whatís in it. He has to do it as a charade. This is one of Christopher Bigginsís best moments in the show. Louise Gold does a pretty good job acting out trying to guess, as well. First syllable is Chill. The second rhymes ďenĒ. ďChilpenĒ, ďChillhenĒ, itís ďChildrenĒ. As soon as she says ďthe C wordĒ the Baroness has a little screaming fit, and almost faints into the arms of one of the entourage. This is very clearly staged, one might almost say symbolised; since the courtier merely enfolds his arms around her, she can hardly be said to sink back. Mind you, she is tottering in high heels all the while, so perhaps itís best to play a little safe in the fainting department. (And take no chances of that courtier repeating Gavin Leeís mistake in Du Barry Was A Lady). The Childcatcher is to be sent for, at which point the stage lights go out, and some of the cast (I think the Baroness included) were complaining of ďanother power cutĒ - a line which some of us in the audience found funny. How often do we read in the newspapers of foreign countries in Eastern Europe and beyond who keep suffering electricity outages? The stage slights a soon back on, it seems to have just been the devious Childcatcher, played by that dancer Lionel Blair, arriving, and being told about this floating car and the children in it.

††††††††††††††† The Vulgarians arrange that if they canít catch the car, they might at least kidnap its owner, the inventor Caractacus Potts. Unfortunately, in a case of mistaken identity, the Captain, nicely played by David Henry, kidnaps Grandpa (his first name is also Caratacus). Boris and Goran realising what has gone wrong, and what the mistake will mean for them, set off in hot pursuit back to Vulgaria. In the middle of all of this, Chitty and occupants arrive home, and as soon as Caractacus realises what has happened, they set off in pursuit too. Part of this chase scene, in front of the drapes, sees everything shrunk, first Grandpaís cubby-hole (which has been hooked up to an airship), and then a model car (Chitty of course) goes whizzing across (complete with toy figures of the four occupants), and finally two younger actors rush across as smaller editions of Boris and Goran (the latter is probably one of the children in the production). A moment later the full-size Boris and Goran dash on, and then its back to the full-size Chitty. They are heading to Beachy Head, again the children plead for Chitty to save them, and then the magical climax, Finale To Act 1. Chitty sprouts wings and flies around the stage. It really is amazing to watch. All too often I think that theatrical special effects are over hyped, and overpaid for. But for once, I think hereís one thatís actually worth it. And what an end to the first act!

 

Act 1 had taken place mostly in England, with one scene in Vulgaria. For Act 2 the action switches entirely to Vulgaria, with a Vulgarian National Anthem that made me think of The Ocarina in Call Me Madam. Well it was a lot of chorus girls with hoops of flowers, all very Eastern European. Boris and Goran enter from stage left, in swimming gear, with snorkels, and spitting water, having just swum from England to Vulgaria. Grandpa Potts is led on, and greeted by the Baron and Baroness. He uses the C word, which prompts another screaming fit from the Baroness, followed by that staged faint. I think this was the one where the courtier with his arms round Louise evidently didnít have one of his hands in the correct place (on her chest), because she lifted one of her hands to move his (perhaps he was inadvertently squashing a breast or something). They have a law in Vulgarian banning children,. Grandpa asks who is responsible for making the laws around here. At which point The Baron points to the Baroness, such is the look on Louise Goldís face that it is obvious even before Christopher Biggins says it ďShe doesĒ. So now we know sheís the power behind the throne so to speak. By now, Louise at least, had pretty much abandoned the standard idea of a Vulgarian accent, in favour of sounding like her interpretation of a battle-axe contralto role in a G&S operetta. Some people may disapprove of her change in accent, but I jolly well liked it. Now all the action was in Vulgaria, and her character so established, she no longer needs to use a thick Ďforeigní accent to suggest who she is, and instead can focus on her character, and if sheís going to make something of the Baroness, then moulding her on a G&S-style grand-dame (in the tradition of Katisha and The Duchess Of Plaza Toro) is a pretty good idea. It also helps to move the show out of the world of pantomime into the world of musical theatre. Besides which it wasnít as if she was making the character exactly English, she just wasnít the customary idea of a Vulgarian accent, Louise is a deft mistress of accents, so its clearly deliberate on her part. And anyway, as Vulgaria is a mythical country, is there really any set definition of what a ďVulgarian accentĒ should sound like? Yes there seems to be a customary one, but does that mean that every actor has to do it that way? Louise Gold is one of the few actors I have ever come across who really dares to do things her own way, independently of anyone elseís way of doing them. Although actually I think some of the others toned down the heavy customary idea of a Vulgarian for the second act, its just that with someone as charismatic as Louise Gold one tends to notice these things more.

††††††††††††††† The Baronial car is brought on, and several inventors, played by: Jaymz Denning, Ray C Davis, Cliff Brayshaw, Robert Traynor, Ben Stock and Nigel Garton. The Baron tells Grandpa he wants the car to float, and changes it to fly, as news of a flying car crossing the boarder arrives. If he fails he will be turned into a sausage. The Baroness meanwhile is standing near the back following the action with her eyes (as only Louise Gold would), actually her facial expressions reminded me of Katisha in the film Topsy Turvy (the bits where sheís suppose to be expressionless). The Baron, Baroness and entourage depart, with the Baronessís sweet parting shot ďAnd watch your languageĒ. I couldnít help laughing over that, not least because of the sweet way Louise delivered the line. However good a line is in a script, it is only as good as the actor delivering it, and when it comes to delivering witty lines, wittily, Louise Gold is one of the best, she has such great comic timing. Grandpa and the inventors attempt to get to work, The Roses Of Success, which might well be a subtle dig at various dictatorships efforts at ruling their scientists, so in a sense it could be a piece of political satire. However, all they manage to do is make the Baronial Car not go at all, when the Baron returns and wants to use it to travel to the other side of town, where a flying car has apparently landed. So Grandpa is dragged off to jail for having failed.

††††††††††††††† Into the square come Caractacus, Truly, Jemima and Jeremy. Arguing about whether they should have hidden Chitty better. At this point an old man, played by Freddie Lees, rushes on, and urges them to ďhide the childrenĒ quickly. Just in time he gets them into his place, when, to a lot of hissing and booing from the audience, on comes The Childcatcher, aboard a clockwork horse and carriage. On the back of the carriage is a large cage. Now itís Lionel Blairís big number, Kiddy-widdy-winkies. This veteran dancer can still move very smoothly, and somehow you can just tell that the choreography is by the Gillian Lynne, because it reminds one so much of Cats. Itís quite a thrill to see someone like Lionel Blair on the legendary London Palladium stage.

††††††††††††††† The old man is The Toymaker. Freddie Lees does a fine job with this character, all the more impressive given that he has to establish his character so quickly. Inside his workshop he insists the children must be hidden in the cellar, and Caractacus and Truly behind curtains. The Childcatcher enters, more hissing, and The Toymaker insists there are no children there, and then heís summoned to the palace anyway, so with the words ďMy nose must have been mistakenĒ he is apparently gone. Caractacus convinces the Toymaker (who would rather get on with making The Baronís birthday present for tomorrow) to help them rescue Grandpa, by showing them a secret way to the palace. Truly is to stay with the children. But The Toymaker apparently returns to tell her thereís been a change of plan, sheís to go with them. But no, itís The Childcatcher in disguises, with Truly out of the way, he takes the children, she realises what has happened, but is only in time to see them driven away in the cage.

††††††††††††††† Underground, Truly finds Caractacus and The Toymaker and tells them what has happened. The Toymaker shows them the sewers, where the few Vulgarian children they have managed to hide live. These children look like a scene from Les Miserables, in the tattered clothing, and shawls, and one small boy, Toby, who is begging could be out of Oliver. After all although Chitty may be set in days gone by, the stage version is very recent, coming hot on the heels of the 1980ís era of misery in musical theatre. However, this is post that era, so we can be jolly again. Caractacus, The Toymaker, and The Children will work together as a team; Teamwork can save the day. Truly joins in on the end of this, as the children dance off stage, somehow, despite being better dressed, she seems to fit in with them very well. Perhaps partly because Scarlett Strallen after all started her career as a child-actress very much like many of these children (her credits in that department include Annie Get Your Gun in the West End as well as the odd panto as a member of The Young Set, of course). Caractacus if left alone on the stage with Toby, whom he serenades with a sorrowful reprise of Hushabye Mountain. Itís a touching moment from Gary Wilmot.

 

We come to my favourite moments in the entire show, well they are pure Gold. We have only half a stage (the back half is being used for set building), but on the half we do have, two screens are brought on. Standing behind the one to the audiencesí left is Louise Gold and the audiencesí right, Christopher Biggins. Itís The Baronís birthday, so clad in a tied dressing own, he sings happy birthday to himself. Presently the Baroness emerges, to whish him well, Chu-Chi Face. This number is hilarious. Iím not too sure what it was doing lyrically, or musically, but production-wise it was simply terrific. Now at last Gold really shines. The Baronessís dressing gown (which is red with black feathers) is not tied, and indeed at some points in the number she slips it off altogether, underneath she is clad in scanties or should that be undies? - Anyway it is basque, stockings, suspenders etc. This is not the kind of outfit you would normally expect to find an actress in her mid-forties dancing in on the West End stage, would you? Especially not in a childrenís musical! It could look awful, but actually it doesnít, for the simple reason that Louise Gold has a fine figure, and great legs, so she actually looks good, even in such a very revealing outfit. On her feet she wearing red high-heeled shoes, the only time she had a pair of shoes on that she isnít tottering on, these are made for dancing and running around in. This is her moment to dance, and boy does she. I think just about the only moment in the number when Christopher Biggins got any attention was when he lifted Louise up! Well I doubt there are many actors who could lift a 5ft9Ē tall woman like that. Goodness knows how Louise managed to spring up there, or how he managed to lift her. But somehow he managed to get her into such a position that she was sitting astride his left shoulder. At this point she had the dressing gown on, so it completely covered his head while he turned round on the spot for a few moments. Quite a spectacle! Once Louise had slid safely down they continued dancing about to end the number. Then they go behind their respective screens to dress, but carry on talking. The Baron his hoping to get a new toy for his Birthday, which causes the Baroness to remark that she canít think why she ever allowed toys into this marriage, while the Baron asks the Baroness what she has planned for his birthday. Meanwhile an assistant is helping Louise into her dress, and trying to fasten it, which prompts a line from the Baroness (which Iím not sure whether it was in the script, or an in character-adlib along the lines ďWhat is she doing the stupid girlĒ - referring to the assistant who is attempting to fasten the dress.

††††††††††††††† Now resplendent in a red Spanish-type dress, whose skirt is cleverly designed as to be slit in such a way she is showing off her right leg a lot, an assistant hands her a pair of maracas, and she launches into The Bombe Samba. She soon hands the maracas over to The Baron, and itís comical the way he keeps being out of time (I presume thatís deliberate). The chorus girls (clad in black Spanish-type dresses) handle the bulk of the really tricky dancing. But tall magnificent Louise holds her own, she moves beautifully and very rhythmically, and itís just a joy to see her get an opportunity to display some of her dancing skills. By now the back drapes are up, to reveal a table and large cake-like concoction on it. Itís a super production number, well danced by the chorus, but the star of the number is Louise Gold.

††††††††††††††† What could follow that? On are brought to boxes, one labelled ĎA Birthday Present For The Baroní and a second labelled ĎAnother Present For The Baroní. The first is opened to reveal a life-size dancing doll, Doll On A Music Box. Such is Scarlett Strallenís stage presonce, we immediately realise its Truly in disguise. For once I found my attention wandered so completely away from Louise Gold, I didnít have even half an eye on her, all the focus is on Scarlett. Now thatís quite an achievement! The second box is opened to reveal, Caractacus, disguised as another mechanical doll, Truly Scrumptious. Somethingís got to happen. Suddenly the cake bursts open, and the sewer kids stream out, reprising Teamwork. The Baroness has another fit of screaming hysterics, only this time sheís too busy trying to escape the sewer-kids to faint. This is a comic high spot of the show. There is so much happening, in this big silly battle between good and evil, that its could be quite hard to know where to look. I found my attention focusing, quite naturally on the sewer kids and The Baroness, especially, when while trying to escape from the clutches of sewer-kids, she and them ended up down on the stage fringe (in front of the orchestra pit). She makes a darting grab at one of the girls, placing her hands on the girlís shoulders as though to shake her. (I am sure that in reality kind-hearted Louise is probably very careful not to use too much force in her strong powerful hands, but the whole thing looks effective). Elsewhere on the stage, the inventors have succeeded in getting the Baron stung up with a rope.

††††††††††††††† A quick bit of scene changing, finds us down in a dungeon, where Jeremy and Jemima are held, You Two. ďLetís try once more,Ē says Jemima, and they sing their Chitty Prayer. Their prayer is answered, first Caractacus and Truly enter, looking for the children, but that dungeon is a dead end. Caractucus asks Truly to marry him, should they ever get out of this, she says they wonít get out of it, then who should come along singing a military song but, Grandpa? No itís The Childcatcher in disguise again. Suddenly, he falls to the ground in agony, like heís been electrocuted, as Chitty flies to the rescue, with Grandpa aboard. The magic car came bursting into his cell and now itís come to rescue the rest of them.

††††††††††††††† Back above ground in the palace, the battle is still going on, The Inventors and courtiers manage to get The Childcatcher into a net, which is then tied to a rope and he is hauled high up into the roof, shouting his vengeance. Someone, brings on a document to repeal the law banning children, and asks The Baron to sign it. Which he does (miming signing his name with a pen in his right hand). Then itís the Baronessís turn. She says sheíd sooner be sick than sign it, and sinks to the ground. Sheís lying on her front when that small sewer kid, Toby, runs up to her and begs her with the magic word ďPleaseĒ. ďI think Iím going to be sick,Ē says the Baroness, finally beaten, rising up on her knees and miming a pen in her left hand, she makes her mark with a cross. I thought that an interesting touch, and canít help wondering whose idea was it to hint at The Baroness being illiterate?

††††††††††††††† Now itís all over. The Baroness gets up off the floor, two battered looking brown suitcases are produced, and The Baron and Baroness make their exit to banishment, through the auditorium, along the, audience way round right aisle. As they do so that battle-axe of a Baroness is telling her husband off for messing the whole thing up, and he, clutching his teddy says ďNot in front of teddyĒ.Their job done, Jeremy and Jemima and Grandpa clamber into the back of Chitty; Truly agrees to marry Caractacus, and they take their places aboard Chitty. The car takes to the air as they sing the Finale.

††††††††††††††† But thereís one important thing to do after a finale, show your appreciation, itís the bows. First the sewer kids, then the ensemble, after that the various principals. Lionel Blair still got greeted with a lot of hissing and booing when he came to take his bow. Which was rather unfair, since he actually acted rather well, perhaps thatís a peril, of acting too well. Finally most of the company line up to sing a reprise of the title song. I notice that by this time Louise Gold is grinning broadly, very much like Rosina/Katisha in The Mikado finale scene in the film Topsy Turvy. This is perhaps the right time to mention, especially for the benefit of those audience members who havenít seen them before, that our three villains are actors, and the villains are only characters. I am sure that off-stage they are probably not in the least bit like those characters. So its a testimony to their skill as actors that the succeed in playing them convincingly.

 

All in all a pretty spectacular show. Yes it does have a pantomime-like quality to it, and many of the cast have experience in panto, ranging from veteran performers, to child-actors getting their first job (those with pantomime experience include: Tony Adams, Scarlett Strallen, Christopher Biggins, Louise Gold, Lionel Blair, Emma Dodd, Catie Marie Entwhistle, Ross Fountain, Aaron Francis, Chadd Garvie, Tim Harwood, Graham Hoadly, Caroline Miller, Grant Neal, Hayley Reed, and Summer Strallen). However, itís really much better than a pantomime, as its actually not quite so over-the-top, and it has proper West End special effects. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is as expensive to go and see as all West End shows are, but for once with any luck you get quite a lot for your money. Perhaps I was lucky, as there has just been a cast change, but all the principals were on, and I thought the standard of performance quite reasonable (though I canít help worrying that could go down hill with holidays and such like). This is a big show, a cast of thirty seven adults (plus seven swings), nineteen children, a bunch of performing dogs, and a flying car. And thatís just what you see on the stage. A show this size also needs a large number of people behind-the-scenes to make it all work. Itís an amazing feet of coordination. However, all the special effects and spectacle in the world wouldnít be much use unless the book and the acting stand up to it. Fortunately though itís a silly story, it is pretty well scripted, and by and large pretty well acted (at least it was with all the principals on). The ensemble of: Adam Bracegirdle, Stephanie Bron, Michael Broughton, Ray C Davis, Ross Dawes, Katie Jane Derbyshire, Emma Dodd, Adrian Edmeades, Catie Marie Enwhistle, Ross Fountain, Aaron Francis, Nigel Garton, Madeleine Harland, Simon Harvey, Robert Kramer, Sarah Meade, Caroline Miller, Grant Neal, Hayley Reed, Joe Ryan, Ben Stock, Summer Strallen, Robert Traynor, and, Lisa Walker did a sterling job, with all their costume changes. One young dancer seemed to stand out a little distinctively, and as she seemed a little similar to Scarlett, I wondered whether it might be Summer?

††††††††††††††† The denouement of a fight scene was really made by the childrenís ensemble (at this particular performance they were: Jordan Bethell, Emily Deamer, Jenny Driver, Roscoe Fenton, Georgia Figgis, Peter Humphreys, Hannah Kenneally-Muir, Esther Langley, Jessica Morris, Thomas Morrison, Jamie OíSullivan, Myles Senior-Campbell, Zoe Shand, Ryan Wright). And, under the direction of Robert Scott the orchestra did a pretty good job in spite of the hectic on stage activity above it. As the two spies Richard Long and Christopher Ryan played their parts well enough, given that good double-acts are hard to do, and I wasnít too keen on their roles, but they are a necessary part of the plot. Lionel Blair made a great job of The Childcatcher, and proved that he can still act and dance very well (his resume makes a point of mentioning that he has been happily married for 36 years, has 3 children and one grandchild). Of the main male characters, Tony Adams is worth mentioning for his characterisation and for having quite good stage presence, he seemed to have the knack for timing the delivery of his lines. As Jeremy and Jemima, Daniel Barlett and Isabel Wroe Wright were generally good, although Isabel was the more noticeable of those two, thatís a part to remember.From what I actually noticed of Christopher Bigginsís performance as The Baron it seemed to alright, but that said, during most of his scenes I was paying so much more attention to Louise Goldís Baroness, that I didnít really notice him. Occasionally he stood up to her, but a lot of the time his co-star dominated him much like her character dominates his in the plot. As our Leading Man, Gary Wilmot acted his part well, he sang nicely, and was entirely satisfactory except for one thing. He didnít really seem to quite have the sort of stage presonce one would expect from a lead, Scarlett Strallen outshone him. And directors Adrian Noble and Jo Davies did the sensible thing and let that happen. Overall this didnít actually matter, in a way it actually contributed to his character, a nice guy, but someone who isnít too good at actually achieving things, and he played his part well. It really wasnít a problem. The car is the star of the show anyway. As a piece of theatrical magic Chitty itself is magnificent, especially when it takes to the air in the flying scenes. Itís well worth watching. I donít usually like too much gimmicky mechanics in musicals, preferring strong acting performances to fancy sets, but I was impressed by this one, and very pleased to have seen it. I felt that the two strongest acting performances came from two actresses who were both trained (many years apart) at Arts Educational, namely Scarlett Strallen and Louise Gold. Both have an abundance of stage presonce. Now it is my considered opinion that if you have a performer with a lot of stage presonce, rather than try to suppress their natural tendencies (as Adrian Noble did when he directed Louise Gold in The Cherry Orchard), the best thing to do is cast them with leading actors whose own performance is strong enough to stand up to theirs, and, give them a role they can really get their teeth into. The latter is exactly what Scarlett Strallen gets here. Itís the first time Scarlett has had a proper opportunity like this on the professional grown-up stage (a few years ago she lead an amateur cast of Oklahoma! to great effect), until now her West End credits have been as a chorus, bit-part player and understudy, and while everyone has to start somewhere, its a waste of her talents and skills. Yes her acting style is perfectly naturally a bit like Bonnie Langfordís, but with a better singing voice. However, thatís the way she is, and the similarity is not necessarily a bad thing. Besides itís only a similarity, Scarlett is very much her own person as a performer. Given the right roles, and wise casting, she could be something. Now, someone who too often hasnít been given enough West End roles worthy of her talent is Louise Gold. She too has a vivacious personality, and a lot of talent. This is an extraordinary acting role for her. Iíve never seen her play a really wicked character before, and, itís a testimony to her acting abilities that so nice a person can play such a nasty character convincingly. But she does. Louise Gold plays The Baroness rather like a G&S Grande Dame; But thereís a lot more to her performance than that. Until I saw Louise in Follies I didnít really know just how good at dancing she is. Itís wonderful to see her dancing again, this time on The London Palladium stage in Chu-Chi Face and The Bombie Samba. She also puts up a great performance in the fight scene. What a woman!

††††††††††††††† Yes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a spectacular show, I didnít expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and itís something to have The London Palladium echo to such a hit spectacle, and Iím glad to have seen it. But I am especially glad to have seen Scarlett Strallen and Louise Gold in it.

 

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Webmaster's footnote: The webmaster would like to thank Miss H K-M for identifying precisely which group of children were appearing as the Vulgarian Children at the particular performance this review covered.

 

 

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