One of the problems with
these big West End shows is that as far as the show’s publicity is concerned
who is actually in it seems to be rather secondary to who has written the show;
with box-office staff being given very little or no information, by those
higher up the chain, of impending cast changes, until the very last minute.
Which, when you’ve got a show that tends to get booked up, isn’t exactly ideal.
Or at least not if you are the kind of theatregoer who likes to book to see
particular performers. I would point out that knowing who is in a show might
also encourage some patrons to choose one show over another, for example even
the more minor roles in the
One, the curtain rises on Gavin
Lee’s Bert, with a brush, outside the “House” drape, singing the classic Chim
Chim Cher-ee. It gets the show off to a rousing good start; and
establishes his character as part narrator; introducing various characters: The
family of George and Winifred Banks and their two children Jane and
The Bedroom set drops down, where Mary is making the children’s acquaintance and quite literally sizing them up with her tape measure; while we get to see just what a leading lady Scarlet Strallen truly is in her own right. In the words of another new number she’s Practically Perfect. The stagehands must’ve had some fun with Mary’s carpet bag, apparently empty, but carefully positioned so she could pull out her hat stand, potted plant, and bedspread, which when stretched out magically turns into a bed. The number, as performed by Scarlet, Roxy, and Billy fits into the score so well one would have thought it was there all along and that the trio were just making it their own.
In front of a Park Gates drape, Gavin
Lee wanders on as Bert the narrator cum struggling artiste, whom Ray C
Davis’s Park Keeper tries to move on. Mary enters with the children going
for a walk in the park, which to her is an educational game. She encourages
them to make friends with Bert, but they, especially Jane, say he’s dirty and
not suitable. Roxy seems to play a little madam rather well. Next Mary tries to
introduce them to a statue called Neleus, danced by Jethro Marles, whom
she promptly brings to life, and they all launch into Jolly Holiday,
for which they are soon joined by a whole bunch of other dancing statues. This
is one of Matthew Bourne’s balletic triumphs. The statues seem to be
dressed in a sort of grey bodystocking (well they couldn’t have been too heavy
with the make-up could they?). Gavin and Scarlett disappear off stage briefly,
but soon emerge having changed costume, he into a cerise and white blazer, with
white trousers and straw hat; she into a shocking pink pinafore (very much
reminiscent of both Princess Sugar’s
dress in Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker, and Mrs
Doasyouwouldbedoneby’s striking ballgown in
A quick bit of set changing, to the Ground Floor Set, and a reprise of Cherry Tree Lane from Aden Gillett and Eliza Lumley, we learn a little more about Mrs Banks, she was not born into the upperclasses like her husband, but had been an actress before her marriage. Now she is supposed to drop her old friends and have mindless tea parties with people whom she “ought” to known. Her difficulties and discomfort with Being Mrs Banks are really a social commentary on Edwardian Britain, or indeed any society that seems to expect a wife to be keeping up appearances for the sake of her husband’s job and position in society. It’s wonderful to see this kind of social history presented in what is generally thought to be a children’s musical. Mary, Jane, and, Michael arrive home, with the children reprising Jolly Holliday much to their father’s annoyance. He recollects how his nanny Miss Andrew would never have allowed him to behave like that.
into the Kitchen set, on the day of Mrs Banks’ important tea party, as Mrs
Brill and Robertson Ay, Jennie Dale and Andrew Pepper come into
their own. Well there is a slight hint of parodying Angela Badderley and
Christopher Beaney, but that’s a nice touch for the grownups in the
audience. Jennie really does a good job as the bossy house-keeper or should that
be Cook-General? And then Jane and
Of course Jane’s efforts end in disaster, with several broken cupboards, and Robertson Ay getting knocked out. Into this chaos enters Mrs Banks, distraught. And then Mary Poppins, who (after Mrs Banks’ departure) sorts everything out with A Spoonful Of Sugar. This is one of those songs that everybody knows, but not necessarily in context. And like many well known song (such as: Do Do Do from Oh Kay, and Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music), context is key to really understanding what the song is about. The children are not ill, they have been naughty, the medicine in this song is their punishment. It’s a magical cheer up tidy up song fulfilling a similar function to Whistle While You Work in Snow White, and A Woman’s Touch in Calamity Jane. Mrs Banks enters, is surprised and joins in. At the song’s conclusion, Mrs Brill enters with the good news, that this morning’s post has brought rejections to all the invites. “Did I pick the wrong day?” asks Mrs Banks, at which Jennie Dale delivers a truly memorable line “No M’am, you asked the wrong people.”
for another lesson out of the house, a visit to the bank. On come most, if not
all, of the ensemble in smart drab attire for another new song Precision
And Order. This was a super number, fitting in well with the show as a
whole. Paul Bentley played the Chairman, with a pinstriped skirt suited
secretary, Miss Smythe. Mr Banks has to see an important client Von Hussler
played by Mark Meadows, who wants a loan for an investment opportunity,
to make money out of money. It was highly fascinating to see Mark Meadows
convincingly play such a very different role to the last one I saw him do,
photojournalist David Scherman in Six Pictures Of Lee Miller.
This is followed by another great little bit part,
front of the drapes comes Diane Langton as The Bird Woman. Mary
encourages the children to look beyond her unkempt appearance, and see her
inner qualities Feed The Birds. This song was the best
performance I’ve seen Diane Langton give, on a par with her recording of
Always True To You In My Fashion. And of course it had a fine
supporting performance from leading lady Scarlett Strallen, but it was
very much Diane’s scene. Scarlett was very good about not stealing it.
Back into the park, Mary says that Mrs Brill wants them to buy The Last Word, from Mrs Corry’s stalls at the market in the park. The children are sceptical, but Mary leads them in. On come a number of the chorus, in complete contrast to the previous scene, now brightly dressed. Mrs Corry played convincingly by Amanda Symonds is out of words, but she has a few letters and some small talk left. So Mary buys them, She asks the children to pick out some letters, and then see what word they can make out of them, it is Mary herself who comes up with Supercalifragilsticexpialidocious. It may be a well known number, but its certainly a rousing one. And unlike I Got Rhythm (which closed the first act of Crazy For You in this very theatre) it stands up well to becoming an overblown production number. Performed by Scarlett, Amanda, Gavin, Roxy, and Billy, along with Rebecca Lock and Laura Scott, as well as many of the chorus. I particularly noticed Rebecca Lock in her bright green costume for she danced so well. And I didn’t actually notice that Amanda (yes the wordseller herself) mispronounced the song’s title. (my thanks to the cast member – who shall be nameless – who pointed that out to me after the show).
at No 17, in the Ground Floor, Mr Banks is home early, he has been suspended
from his job, because he refused the loan to Von Hussler, who went to a rival
firm, and has made a goldmine for them. He could loose his job. They could
loose everything. His wife tries to be there for him. Mary and the children
return, in high spirits, not the best thing in Mr Banks’ present mood. They go
up to their room. In The Bedroom, Mrs Banks comes up to ask the children not to
come and say goodnight to their father tonight. Unfortunately for them it is
Mary’s night off, and she is getting ready to go out. As Mrs Banks needs to be
with her husband, the children will be alone in the nursery. In a fit of
The roof set drops down, with Gavin Lee as Bert perched upon it. Mary appears (shooting up from the chimney), and once she has climbed out they sit together on the roof reprising Chim Chim Cher-ee. This is a touching moment, one of the few truly romantic scenes in the entire musical. With the top of the roof set (on which they are sitting) being several feet off the stage, it also reminded me of the romantic scenes aboard the old Showboat, at this theatre. Mary departs. Then a window opens, to find Jane and Michael reading a note, and asking Mrs Brill what “Auvoir” means. With that the curtain comes down to end the act. Just the right point for an interval, wondering what will happen next. I think many of us can guess what but not how.
Act 2 opens with the second scariest scene in the show, and
starts with Mrs Brill assisted by Robertson Ay carefully dusting round an
heirloom vase, followed by a reprise of Cherry Tree Lane on the
Ground Floor set, getting ready for the arrival of another nannie. Mrs Banks
hasn’t said who it is, as she wants it to be a surprise for her husband. “You
know I hate surprises” says Aden Gillett with conviction. While his
wife protests “You wouldn’t believe the trouble I had tracking her down”.
Producing from her bag a large steaming medicine bottle and spoon. Miss Andrew douses both children, first Michael, who gets comforted tenderly by Jane, giving Roxy another little opportunity to shine and show her character’s humanity, before she too is doused. Louise launches loudly into her big number (one of the new ones) Brimestone And Treacle Part 1; wrapping her fiery golden voice around the lyrics. Although this wicked number makes quite good use of her awesome firepower, there is also room for her to demonstrate the more subtle qualities of her voice. Some of the lines are actually sung with a flowing sweetness providing a complete contrast to the rather nasty lyrics themselves. This is a very similar effect to that achieved by (that notable Prince Edward Theatre Supertrouper) Louise Plowright in her wicked version of My Favourite Things in pantomime last Christmas. I doubt that there are very many singing-actresses who could really handle such subtly of light and shade required for this song, along with such a sure-fire ability to switch so quickly and cleanly between vocal styles, but Louise Gold is an accomplished vocalist, well versed in magnificent magical quick switching.
The children, well mostly the domineering Jane, decide there is only one thing for it; they will have to run away. Without stopping to get their coats, the run to The Park, and encounter Bert, who suggests Let’s Go Fly A Kite which he along with the Park Keeper sings with the children. This is a lovely cheer up number, a big contrast to the previous one. They are soon joined by a few of the chorus, also flying kites. Presently the childrens’ kite gets stuck, after a moment or two of yanking Mary Poppins appears on the end of it, and flies down to greet them (to the Park Keeper’s consternation). She is more worried about why the children haven’t got their coats, they explain about Miss Andrew, and set off to return to the house.
Meanwhile, in front of the drapes Aden Gillett wanders on to lament his lot with (another new song) Good for Nothing. A simple number, but he sings it with convincing conviction.
Eliza Lumley, searching for the children, wanders on to reprise Being Mrs Banks. An interesting reprise because the tone of the song is quite different to the earlier version. This time she knows that she shouldn’t try to fit in, she should do what she is really comfortable with herself, but how are they to get out of the present mess?
Back at the House, on the Ground Floor Set. The birdcage is still in the hall, Mary lifts the cover to find a lark, and promptly sets it free. We hear Louise Gold’s loud voice before she descends the stairs. Mary slips into the doorway of the hall cupboard. Miss Andrew’s conviction and ferocity have not abated one little bit. Especially when she finds they (presumably the children) have set her “Caruso” free. She goes to dose them again; but then Roxy Serle, standing centre stage, executes a perfectly comic timed titter, Louise immediately turns, sees Scarlett, and the pair launch into their colourful sing-off battle (of Scarlett and Gold) Brimestone And Treacle Part 2. Well Louise Gold is firing off Brimstone and Treacle, while Scarlett Strallen is wielding her trusty counterpoint, A Spoonful Of Sugar. Roxy and Billy are standing centre stage, Louise advances from stage left, Scarlett from stage right, each with her own choice weapon. Both former Arts Ed pupils have been noted for their scene stealing tendencies, so pitched together in the show’s only battle, and a singing battle at that, they are so well matched, that for once they can have full rein to try and steal the scene from each other. Which to my mind is exactly what you should do with performers with such presence, just let them battle it out!
Suddenly a turning point is reached, Scarlett clicks her fingers, in a flash Louise’s outstretched hand turns towards herself, Mary’s magic causes Miss Andrew to quite literally get a taste of her own medicine. In the earlier scene Roxy and Billy did a pretty good job of acting out chocking down that brimstone and treacle medicine, now Louise too rises to the occasion, going even further, especially when with another click of Scarlett’s fingers she puts the medicine bottle to her lips and downs out. It’s absolutely comical. However, Louise Gold is a sensible subtle actress (with a very good understanding of comedy), and while she really lets herself go with the scene, she is careful not to be too OTT as to be either silly or disgusting. She knows just how far to go. A large cage comes up through the trap door, still singing a magical force draws Miss Andrew into it, the door shuts so that both she and it can be pulled down through the trap door, Louise ending her vocal acrobatics with two piercing screams (that sound just like Mrs Tyler in the Witchcraft trial episode of BlackAdder). What a sensational performance!
Eliza Lumley enters. Mrs Banks is extremely glad to see them all, and to be informed that Miss Andrew has gone, much to her relief. Then the policeman turns up with Mr Banks. So they are all together again. Mary takes the children upstairs. Mr Banks decided its the rainy day for which they’ve been saving his mother’s vase, and goes to get it down, but just as he does so, Mrs Brill enters, causing him to drop and smash it. However, one small consolation is that among the pieces he finds his ginger-bread stars, which as a boy he had hidden in it from his nanny, and then forgotten where he had hidden them. Even after all this time they are still shinning.
Up on the Bedroom set, Scarlett, Roxy and Billy
reprise Practically Perfect, then the Roof set drops down, with Gavin
Lee sitting on it reprising Chim Chim Cher-ee. Suddenly the
children shoot up the chimney. Surprised he goes and helps them out, and then
Mary appears, seemingly a little startled as she is in the middle of using her
compact. She adds a black smudge to her right cheek “that’s better” she
says, and clambers out; ready for the four of them, along with the male chorus
(all dressed as chimney sweeps) to launch into the musical big spectacular
tap-ballet, Step In Time. If, like me, you like great stylish tap
numbers, then this one is a real treat. Gavin Lee is the centre of
attention, for he is a truly fantastic tap dancer, up there with the best of
them, I might mention Kirby Ward or Tim Flavin (both of whom have
tapped on this very stage), as well as Darren Bennett (who has not).
However, as leading lady Scarlett Strallen too gets ample opportunity in
the tap dancing spotlight in this number, and proves to be terrific, as one
might expect given both her heritage and her training, she is after all a
veteran of both The Young Set and the Arts Educational School.
I’ve noticed that whenever one sees really good ensemble tap numbers on the
A swift bit of scene changing, still with Step In Time playing brings us, and the Chimney Sweeps, into the Ground Floor set to cheer up a depressed Mr Banks. He is not amused at the invasion of sweeps, not least because he has just received a summons to the bank at the close of the day’s business, he is sure he is going to be sacked. Nevertheless he ends up shaking Bert’s hand (so the audience know this must come alright, because it’s good luck to shake hands with a sweep), over a reprise of A Man Has His Dreams and A Spoonful Of Sugar.
In The Bedroom set, Mrs Banks, comes in to say that her husband has gone off to the bank, she only wishes there was someone to put his side of the story. Mary reminds her that Anything Can Happen If You Let It.
How well Aden Gillett plays his fearful
entrance at the bank; but it turns out the loan that supposedly made a goldmine
for their rivals has now turned bad and ruined their rivals. Meanwhile
Back down to earth in The Bedroom set. the children
tell her it was the best trip yet, and ask if they can go there again “Not
for a very long time” says Scarlet, with kind severity. And with that
singing a reprise of A Spoonful of Sugar, she flies away, quite
literally, for Scarlett is wires flying out into the auditorium, just like the Witches in The
Witches of Eastwick did. But she has left the children another
note, with her locket, for Jane (as
All in all the show had a very jolly atmosphere, and
the audience seemed to be enjoying it. There was good applause in all the right
places, including at the end, although only about a dozen to dozen people gave
it a standing ovation (which may have disappointed some of the cast, teh hee
hee), but overall it was good. All the cast performed pretty well. and the
orchestra was nicely conducted by
what of the performances? The ensemble of: Matthew Boulton, Chloe
Campbell, Tom Dwyer, David McMullan, Scott Owen, Lucy
Potter, Annalisa Rossi, Barnaby Thompson, and Kate Tydman gave
of their best, as did William Lee Davis, Sean Perkins, and, Laura
Scott. Of the various ensemble feature parts: Mark Faith, Paul Bentley,
and, Ray C Davis all made the most of being convincing in their parts,
as one would expect from actors of their calibre. Chevaun Marsh was
quite satisfactory in the role of Miss Lark, because it was a character that
suited her acting style and her training. Jethro Marles did a fine job
of leading the Act 1 ballet Jolly Holiday. It was
fascinating to see Mark Meadows play such a contrastingly different role
as Von Hussler after having seen him play David Scherman – he’s clearly
a good actor to be so different. Howard Jones also turned out a good,
and very convincing performance as
Andrew Pepper got his
The best of the men is obviously leading man Gavin Lee. He’s on stage a lot, popping up as the narrator. He plays that part well, making a good narrator for a family show. But he’s also very much a character within the show, and totally convincing as such, including with his cockney accent. He’s played some excellent roles over the years, including some notable ones at The Bridewell in the days when that theatre was professional, and despite one little mishap contributed jolly well to the Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM’s 2001 production of Du Barry Was A Lady. However, here in Mary Poppins he surpasses himself to emerge as a true star turn. The highlight of which is his spectacular tap dancing in Step In Time. In this show he is second only to Scarlett Strallen.
This show’s shooting star is of course Scarlett
Strallen. In some ways perhaps performers from notable theatrical families
have a hard time of it, since they will invariably be noticed, and compared to
their relatives. And certainly in some of her earlier
Scarlett, as one might expect, did of course work
professionally as a child. Usually in stage shows, such as
One actress with a lot of experience of those superbitch-who-isn’t-really-a-bitch roles, including one on this very stage, is Louise Gold. I’ve seen Louise play a battle-axe before, but never one quite like this! Even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Baroness, and that was a wicked role, one could at least see was driven by power, and in her own clearly loved the Baron. But Miss Andrew seems to have no such qualities, she is so totally cold and harsh. For someone so nice, Louise plays out and out nasty surprisingly well. This is a character we have absolutely no sympathy for, the character is like a Borg, or a Nazi (driven by something, an idealism perhaps, but what?). Even if we don’t understand what drives the character one can still be impressed by Louise’s magnificently skilful performance of it, and her big number Brimestone And Treacle, where she certainly exercises her leather lungs and colourful vocal abilities. A reminder perhaps that the actress has known bigger roles here; some six years ago she dug the Dancing Queen as a supporting Dynamo in Mamma Mia for two years, and ten years earlier for over a month had established her claim to be The English Ethel Merman in Anything Goes. Her role may be diminished, but her power has not faded. She mucks in well with the ensemble during act one. first as an enthusiastic dancing statue, and then blends surprisingly well into the role of Miss Smythe. She gives of her best throughout, and even to the curtain calls she never stops acting. She makes the most of her part, even as a supporting player she’s the top, she’s a supertrouper, a true professional of a musical theatre performer.
All in all a good fun show, performed with a lot of warmth and verve by a talented cast. Gavin Lee led a stunning tap routine. Roxy Searle made a splendid debut as Jane. Scarlett Strallen really made the title role her own. And Louise Gold made the most of her job, with her commanding presence, outstanding vocal ability, and true professionalism. A good impressive fun night out.