Mary Poppins


Prince Edward Theatre, Wednesday 19th April 2006


Emma Shane

©April 2006


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 West End can be filled by actors who although not necessarily big star names, nevertheless have their own following, perhaps through working on cult TV shows or films. An example; for the last two summers Chitty Chitty Bang Bang certainly picked up a bit of extra tourist trade it might otherwise not have had, because they just happened to have a veteran of two international TV comedy shows among their cast. They didn’t need to advertise the connection, merely the performer’s name. This of lack of information seems to affect some theatres, and some shows more than others. For example Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (at The London Palladium), and, Chicago (at The Adelphi) seem to have been unusually good at getting something like a decent flow of information going (although there is still the difficulty that performers may be on holiday). Unfortunately The Prince Edward Theatre shows seem to be among the worst offenders. Not the fault of the box-office staff, though perhaps it’s coming to something when the box-office staff, not only get informed that a cast change is scheduled for a week later than it actually happens, but also find themselves asking their customers which performers are coming into the show on the cast change! I believe it has been a problem at this theatre for years. Even 16 years ago, when Elaine Paige left a production  about a month before it closed, there were people who seemed to have managed to book without knowing there was about to be a cast change. Then there are the slips of paper in the programme, at for example The Royal Opera House, one is specifically told on either slip or announcement if an absence is due to illness. But here, at The Prince Edward Theatre, a slip of paper will merely say “At this performance the role of x will be played by y”, no reason is given. Tonight we didn’t even have a slip of paper, merely an announcement right before curtain up that “At this performance the role of Mrs Brill will be played by Jennie Dale”; though as the curtain rose a worrying ten minutes late, perhaps on this occasion it was a very last minute thing. Fortunately tonight, everybody else who was supposed to be on actually was. But it’s always such a chancy thing.

Act 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 Michael, played tonight by: Aden Gillett, Eliza Lumley, Roxy Serle, and, Billy Edwards respectively; We also meet a few bit characters: Katie Nanna (it says in the programme that she was played by Jennie Dale - but I don’t recollect the character being present, and as Jennie was employed tonight in another role I’m not absolutely certain whether she was there or not),  the Policeman played by Mark Faith, Miss Lark played by Chevaun Marsh – who spends most of the show wandering around with a mechanical Pekinese dog tucked under her arm, and Admiral Boom played by Paul Bentley, along with a number of the chorus. Gavin Lee continues his narrator’s role by telling us that one of the problems with The Banks’ household at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane is that the nannies don’t last long. Soon the House drape goes up and it’s onto the Ground Floor set, where the children are playing on the stairs, with the departure of a nannie, the remainder of the household: Including the two servants Mrs Brill played tonight by Jennie Dale, Robertson Ay played by Andrew Pepper, launch into Cherry Tree Lane (one of the new numbers for this stage production). Two things really stand out in this number. The first is that Jennie Dale’s Mrs Brill looks like a dead ringer for Hermione Badderly’s sister Angela. Was this an intentional reference to Upstairs Downstairs on the part of Bob Crowley one wonders? The second is Aden Gillett; He is a splendid actor, seems to be quite at home in a musical, despite having few musical credits in his resume. He seems the stereotyped harsh father, and yet as this musical progresses we see a real living breathing character underneath that stereotype. He leaves the engaging of servants to his wife, that’s her job, his is to make money. She wonders about getting his old nanny, he seems to have such a high opinion of, but he says they could never afford someone so efficient, and, tells her to put an advertisement in The Times. Presently Jane and Michael descend the stairs, they’ve written their own advertisement The Perfect Nanny. Roxy Serle and Billy Edwards make an impressive duo in this number. It’s definitely their number, with no help from the grown up performers. From the start they prove themselves to be a capable pair of juvenile leads. George Banks does not take kindly to their efforts, he tears it up and throws it on the fire. Cherry Tree Lane Part 2. Suddenly a storm blows up, always a cue for something magical, or a leading lady’s entrance, in a stage show. On this occasion it’s both. We see her fly past the back of the Ground Floor set, and expect her to come on from the wings stage left. But she doesn’t, I think there might have been a puff of smoke, I was looking too much to stage left to be sure, but it was as if leading lady Scarlet Strallen really did appear out of nowhere. I subsequently realised that there’s a trap door right at the spot where she appeared (but only because it got used very effectively later on). Mary Poppins has come in answer to the children’s advertisement. George Banks leaves the interviewing to his wife, whom Mary soon wraps around her little finger in her own charming delightful way, before heading upstairs with the children, in  a delightful but bossy manner not dissimilar to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Truly Scrumptious.

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 Jason Carr’s musical of The Water Babies). It’s a dance spectacular performed by a wonderful assortment of the company, with plinths being slide on and off the stage. Its climax includes one lady not often associated with this kind of number, as entering on one of the plinths is the majestic figure of a Queen (complete with ceremonial sword), yes a dancing queen, danced by statuesque (Arts Ed trained) Louise Gold; recognisable by her big wide mouth and the enthusiastic manner in which she pitched straight into the dance routine, with all the charisma of an anarchic madcap puppet, as one might expect from the doyenne of British television puppeteers.

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.

Descending 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 Michael enter, to inform Mrs Brill that she is wanted upstairs. She leaves Robertson Ay to get her icing equipment out. Jane decides to make the icing herself. This is one of those moments in a show where a performer who had up and till now been pretty good suddenly excels themselves with such a commanding presence that you know exactly why they are playing a leading role. Usually in a musical this happens with a song (such as Louise Plowright rasping the title song from Mamma Mia, or, Louise Gold belting a Cole Porter-Ethel Merman hit such as Ridin’ High or Anything Goes), but on this occasion Roxy Serle does it with straight acting, commanding both her co-stars in the plot and the scene in the show. What is all the more amazing, is that she managed to do it while portraying a rather nasty bossy side to her character.

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.”

Time 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, Northbrook played by Howard Jones. It was great to see him in the West End on The Prince Edward Theatre’s stage, I had seen him in Crazy For You in Wimbledon a couple of years ago, when he went on as a somewhat last minute replacement for an indisposed Darren Bennett. He proved his worth then, now he gets his own little role, and one of the most fascinating characters in the production. A kind of character you would not have seen on the West End stage in the early 20th Century, a working man with a vision and the determination to make it a reality. He wants a loan to build a factory that is going to be a workers co-operative. Mary Poppins enters with Jane and Michael, whose father is none too pleased by their visit, yet Mary has a magical effect on him, and before the scene ends he has realised in himself that Von Hussler is not to be trusted and turned him down, but Northbrook is worth a gamble and grants him a loan, A Man Has His Dreams. This song was something of a revelation, in that I didn’t know that Aden Gillett could sing. So that was a nice surprise. It wasn’t the only surprise in this scene though, for it is here that yours truly has to make a confession, I managed to sit through this whole scene and totally failed to recognise the actress playing Miss Smythe. It turned out to be none other than Louise Gold, with a totally unrecognisable accent. I had a similar experience nearly ten years ago watching her in The Cherry Orchard, I really never expected it to happen again! Perhaps it just goes to show what an outstanding actress Louise Gold really is!

In 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. Michael falls in with the message, but the harsher Jane does not.

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).

Back 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 temper, Michael decides to go and tell his father all about the silly games Mary has played with them. It is here that Jane is totally surprising, suddenly showing some tenderness towards Mary. I was impressed with Roxy’s ability to control her character’s subtleties with such convincing conviction. There aren’t so many grown up actors who would be able to do that as effectively as she did. Importantly it is only some tenderness, because in the end both children are still in a bad temper with Mary for leaving them, shut up in the nursery, alone. The result of this, is that they quarrel, over the toy Valentine, who gets shoved into the dolls house. Suddenly he grows and comes to life played by William Lee-Davis, soon followed by William played by Sean Perkins, Mr Punch played by Ray C Davis, a doll played by Laura Scott and a whole bunch of other odd toys, who judge the children for loosing their temper, Temper Temper. This is perhaps the scariest number in the show, or one of the two scariest. Yet it is also funny. Literature and drama, especially aimed at children’s and family entertainment is littered with stories of toys who come to life, ranging from The Nutcracker, to The Box Of Delights (well actually The Midnight Folk), and not to mention The Secret Life Of Toys (a children’s TV puppet programme of the mid 1990s).  However, when toys come to life they do not usually turn on their children, as these ones do, but perhaps Jane and Michael deserve it. At the number’s conclusion Mary returns, but the children are still cross with her, so she decides they will just have to manage the next part without her, and departs up the chimney onto the roof.

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”. Jane and Michael hope it might be Mary. They are in for a big disappointment, the new nanny enters, “It’s The Holy Terror” exclaims Mr Banks and promptly rushes out saying his got to go to the office. In fact the surprise is none other than his own old nannie, Miss Andrew, played with all the gorgon ferocity that the ever-powerful Louise Gold can command. She gives the character a guttural voice and manner very much to Private Elsa Bunshlager in Allo Allo. Only much harsher. Elsa might have been a Nazi but she had some redeeming features. Miss Andrew appears to have none. Despite the preparations she immediately find fault, untidy flowerbeds, dust in the drawing room; and flowers in the hall. She hates flowers, they are so untidy, she recommends merely concrete in the garden. She is dressed mainly in black, with her red hair hidden under a greying wig. In her left hand she has a black holdall and in her right a bird cage covered with a black cloth. On enquiring after George and been informed he is working she is pretty cutting to say the least. The children fare even worse. She considers that she has not arrived a moment too soon to pull them into shape. She informs Mrs Banks that “The boy will go at once to boarding school, the girl, I will take charge of myself.” The scene makes excellent use of Louise Gold’s commanding stage presence, her ability to establish her character and dominate a scene from the moment she steps onto the stage, irrespective of whether she is playing a major or minor role, and with or without any aide from the show’s structure. This may the glorious Gold’s big scene, but there is still room on The Prince Edward Theatre’s large stage for other actors to shine, provided they have the ability to stand up to her; and displaying an acting maturity beyond her years, Roxy Serle snatches a moment of that scene. When Miss Andrew demands “Why aren’t you wearing stockings” she replies assertively and memorably that she doesn’t like wearing stockings.

                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 West End stage, one often seems to find Arts Ed trained performers among the best of them. Although the number really belongs to Gavin, with strong support from Scarlett and the ensemble, one should not forget Roxy and Billy who join in on some of the ensemble dancing and acquit themselves well. The number more or less concludes with a spectacular tour de force from Gavin Lee when (attached to flying wires) he tap dances up the stage wall left, and along the proscenium. – Wow what a number!

                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 Northbrook has repaid his loan with interest, and has now taken out two more loans to open another two factories. The chairman and bank staff want to know “How did you do it?” “I have rediscovered the human race” replies Aden with simple conviction. To which the Bank chairman, reveals that he once believed in humanity and dreams too, until his nanny, beat it out of him, she was Miss Andrew. “You had The Holy Terror too!” is the exclamation. Just at this moment, following Mary’s advice, Mrs Banks turns up to try and defend her husband, much to his surprise and delight. He tells her that if she really wants to go back to her career on the stage then he is happy for her to do so. She replies that she’s now found she’s happy to stay at home. The Chairman offers Mr Banks his just reward, a large salary increase. He accepts, but on condition that they realise that from now on his family comes first. After all Anything Can Happen If You Let It. With this number Mary takes the children on one more trip, this time up into the heavens, where she gives Michael her telescope. There’s stars and lights all over the stage, and the most unlikely motley bunch of ensemble dancing with each other, including the Policeman paired up with Miss Andrew. There have been many morals and messages in this musical, maybe that is another one. In those days there were all too few opportunities for a woman in the upper and middle classes who by circumstance (such as not managing to find a husband) had to earn her own living. Jobs such as being a Nanny or a governess were often all she could get, whether of not she would like or be suited to such a job. Perhaps that’s why the character is so unpleasant?

                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 Michael had the telescope), now they know it really is goodbye, another family need Mary Poppins. They don’t need her anymore. In fact they don’t even need a nanny. Mrs Banks can manage perfectly well on her own, and Mr Banks enters with a large kite, yes he’s going to fly it with his son. As the four of them look out the window, just like in one of the novels, they see A Shooting Star, and they know it is Mary herself. And then as the orchestra plays it’s into the curtain calls/orchestra bows. First those members of the ensemble who are just chorus, then some of the bit characters, in twos, though each of a pair has their own individual bow. Louise Gold and Diane Langton are one such; and here occurs something I’ve never seen happen before. It is often said that when an actor is on they should “stay in character” and “never stop acting”. As Louise Gold takes her curtain call she glares ferociously at the audience, making her pretty face quite ugly with a horrible scowl; and yet it was perfectly obvious exactly what she is doing, she didn’t stop acting, she took her curtain call in character, as the ghastly Miss Andrew! Once she had taken her place in line with her fellow cast members, her role was over, then she stopped acting, and let her lovely big broad grin spread across her face. Laughing and smiling with Roxy Serle (who was by now standing beside her to her left), as the entire company reprised Supercalifragilistiicexpialidocious. But it is left to Gavin Lee, still as Bert, with his arms round Scarlett, to have the last word “I used it to me girl, and now me girl’s me wife”; and we all know that Mary Poppins has found romance and married her chimney sweep, giving us the a stereotyped happy ending, and yet one which is quite low key seems entirely right. Just what we wanted.

                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 Paul Christ. The sound balance was not too loud (which made a nice change to the last time I saw a show at this theatre!). The new songs by Stiles & Drewe fitted seamlessly in with the original Sherman Brothers’ songs. I am not always too keen on Stiles & Drewe, though I think them a lot better than many of the more pop-oriented musical theatre songwriters. I do, however, think that they were absolutely the right choice for this musical, because their style fits in with the Disney veterans The Sherman Brothers so well. Disney-type children’s/family musicals are clearly their forte. I was very impressed by Julian Fellowes’s book. This may be a musical aimed at the family market, but there was a good thread of social commentary and history embedded in there. Which I for one was very glad to notice. The costumes and sets were overall perfectly good, quite a bit of spectacle, but just about not too OTT. So is it scary? Well, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was scarier. Gavin Lee’s Bert is a reassuring presence throughout much of the show, making you know everything is going to be alright in the end. Perhaps the scariest scene is Temper Temper, but I’ve certainly seen worse in family entertainment musicals, not to mention some pantomimes. And as for Brimestone And Treacle, well its very impressively performed by a thoroughly nasty villainess (actually played by a very nice actress), but I think you know by then that somehow good will triumph. I thought the happy ending was really good. Stereotyped and yet not. Nobody died, there was a marriage, but it was played down, and above all humanity and decent values really won the day.

And 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 Northbrook, he clearly has a talent for portraying a working man, a representative of the ordinary people, perhaps he should explore that further. Tonight’s performance was the best I have ever seen from Diane Langton, the role of The Bird Woman and her number Feed The Birds, seems to suit her well. It’s a nice little character, nothing too taxing, a surprisingly good piece of casting. Despite her mishap of getting such a key lyric wrong, all the more significant given that she was playing the conversation seller Mrs Corry, Amanda Symonds generally acquitted herself well, as one would expect from singer-actress trained at The Guildhall. One can often tell the performers from better training institutions by their skilful performances, it does show. Similarly I was also impressed by Rebecca Lock’s performance (especially her dancing) in that same number, which again is hardly surprising given that she is a graduate of The Central School Of Speech And Drama.

                Andrew Pepper got his West End debut off to a good start. Jeanie Dale made an excellent job of understudying the role of Mrs Brill. I don’t know what Sarah Flind is like in that role, or why she was off, but I don’t think it affected the show too much. Sometimes the absence of a key supporting performer (not necessarily the lead) can have a really detrimental effect on how well the other performers play their parts. But thankfully I don’t think it was a problem on this occasion. Interestingly, judging by her resume she seems to have been entrusted with a lot of understudying. She was particularly good with the line “You asked the wrong people”. I have never before seen Aden Gillett in a musical, and I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by how good his performance was generally, and his delivery of his lines, especially towards the end on the subject of work life balance (rather a contemporary issue – some things don’t really change). I also thought that Billy Edwards did a jolly good job, but both of them were a little overshadowed by some of the women. This is a musical with some quite strong roles for its women performers. Though Eliza Lumley too suffers a little from getting a trifle overshadowed. However, she is absolutely excellent, plays her character with complete conviction, and is totally convincing. Added to which she really make one feel a lot of sympathy for her character, that’s something some actors forget to do.

                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 West End performances there were family traits one couldn’t help noticing. Yet when I saw her in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I thought there was something more to her than that. Funnily enough there is a slight sense of deja-vu from that show, given the Scarlett’s Truly Scrumptious along with Roxy’s Sewer Kid found themselves pitched in battle against Louise’s Baroness. This time, however, Scarlett thoroughly proves herself as an accomplished leading lady in her own right. It’s lovely to see her given this opportunity to shine and really make the role very much her own. As a grown up performer at long last she has really arrived.

                Scarlett, as one might expect, did of course work professionally as a child. Usually in stage shows, such as West End musicals, children tend to play rather cute roles. But not in this musical. The roles of Jane and Michael Banks are not there for just the cute factor. They are real characters of their own. Jane in particular would be a tricky role for an actress of any age, but to expect a child to play it is asking a lot. Roxy Searle rises admirably to the challenge; getting just the right mix of being on the surface a little bitch, and yet you know that under the surface Miss Jane ain’t so bad, merely rather spoilt. It is not every grown up actress who can manage to play a superbitch-who-isn’t-really-a-bitch, but this girl already has that ability. Who knows, in years to come perhaps she might tackle some of musical theatre’s great superbitch-who-isn’t-really-a-bitch  roles.

                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.




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