Ian Flemming’s fantasmagorical story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang comes to life on stage this year at West Yorkshire Playhouse, bringing with it everyone’s favourite “Toot Sweets”, banging about with “Me Ol’ Bamboo” and, of course, taking off with the fantastic flying car. ★★★
The show sees a dastardly plot brewing in Vulgaria, where Baron Bomburst and his child-allergic Baroness scheme from afar to steal the flying car by sending their inept secret agents to secure it; but a series of failures and mishaps lead to Grandpa Potts being kidnapped and it is if left to the plucky courage of the Potts family to save him, whilst avoiding the terrifying Childcatcher.
Using a mixture of theatrical techniques and a little bit of theatre magic, Chitty takes flight in this family musical, featuring the songs by the Sherman brothers which you will instantly recognise and no doubt be humming as you leave the theatre. Being a huge crowd pleaser, the audience burst out into spontaneous applause at many of the scenes, especially when Chitty made an appearance and the cheering and hollering at the conclusion were proof that the audience had absolutely lapped it up.
There were some good comedy touches, in particular, Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as the bungling spies, showing some on point comedy timing whilst bouncing off each other nicely. There was a moment with a turkey which amused me far more than it should have, and the simplicity and innocence of lot of the humour made it successful. On the darker side, Stephen Matthews as The Childcather, was very good indeed, with his sinister mixture of camp and creepy sending shivers down the spines of the younger audience (and re-awakening long lost childhood fears in the older audience members), with his promise of “lollipops…. all free”
There is an overarching influence of steampunk within the presentation, and as a production, it is colourful, has beautifully constructed sets and the special effects work very well when combined with a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. There were a couple of big musical numbers which really hit the right note, nowhere more evident that “The Bombie Samba”, a bold, brash, energetic explosion of colour and kitsch; and “Me Ol’ Bamboo”, which was well staged but would have benefited from a larger ensemble.
For me personally, the show did feel rather flat. With a couple of exceptions, the big musical numbers didn’t feel that grandiose, and whilst the technical side of the production is impressively undertaken and presented overall, the actual show itself was decidedly mediocre. Despite a good turn from Amy Griffiths as “Truly Scrumptious”, the on stage chemistry from the two leads never really ignited, a critical feature when the main character development within the story is them falling in love. The show itself is an odd one, where the star of the production is a mechanical prop, where the characters are greatly exaggerated to the cusp of being almost pantomime like and where the restoration of a car is an analogy for the reparation of a fractured family. But judging by the audience’s reaction, I was in the minority.
With its feet planted firmly in the “family show” camp, the simple plot and special effects will keep the youngsters happy whilst the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia will no doubt satisfy the adults.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is currently at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds (www.wyp.org.uk ) until the 30th January 2016; before embarking on an extensive national tour, taking in 18 venues across the UK over the next 12 months.
For more details and to book tickets, visit the show’s official website at http://www.chittythemusical.co.uk/