Sunday, 13 July 2008

Mary Poppins

Birmingham Hippodrome
10 July 2008

Mary Poppins flies!

What would Mary Poppins do? That’s the new mantra of myself and my husband when looking after our young nieces after going to the first night in the national tour of this wonderful and heartwarming show!

I really cannot fault this stage version of Mary Poppins! In this production, the story of the outwardly prim and proper nanny who turns a pair of rather annoying middle-class kids into something more palatable is colourful, spectacular, fun and just completely joyful, from her first appearance in the Edwardian house, to her climactic exit over the auditorium at the end.

Yes, it’s true that I sat through the whole thing with a sense of awe, wondering exactly how they fitted all the scenery back stage and whether or not the credit crunch had passed it by as each new fantastic effect or costume appeared, but I also left the theatre with a big smile on my face, almost longing for the panto season to begin as it left me with that same warm and cosy feeling that you get at those special Christmas shows!

The stage effects as things collapse and fall off walls and are then re-instated are superbly worked, the statues that come to life show excellence from the dancers playing them, the changes of scene from grey London day to colourful fantasy world are seamless and the flying is magical. Yes – it’s professionally efficient, but it’s not just about the workings of the stage, it is atmospherically warm and exciting too.

It looks fantastic, and not just in its design and costumes. The staging of the ensemble numbers is superb which is only to be expected from the wonderful Matthew Bourne who is both choreographer and co-director.

It would be easy to go overboard with a number like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but in Bourne’s skilful hands it is a highly effective piece where the word is spelled out with hand movements rather than there being a lot of leaping about. Brilliant!

Similarly, the scene where the toys come alive in the nursery could have come straight from his Nutcracker or Edward Scissorhands and the fun exuding from Step in Time which includes the marvel of Bert walking upside down around the proscenium arch, is exactly what you want from a musical spectacular.

Caroline Sheen in the title role is “practically perfect in every way”, revelling in the mixture of firmness and kindness that the part requires and Daniel Crossley as Bert is a pleasing combination of mystery man and cheeky chappy.

What I like about this story is that amongst the magic there is a lesson to be learned. Mary Poppins is not the sickly sweet goody, goody carer that she could be turned into. She’s quite harsh with her charges but in doing so is firm but fair. It’s actually a fantastic example of how childcare should be approached – although modern day parents don’t have such an amazing bag of tricks – both literally and metaphorically!

Afterwards we looked back on an incident earlier in the day when we took one of our nieces to the park then, after promising the four-year-old an ice cream, we realised that neither of us had enough change to buy it. This, as you can imagine, was a disaster. The youngster’s quivering lip led to Mr FB running – yes running - back to the car to scrabble about for the pound we use for shopping trolleys and then running back looking rather pink and sweaty.
“What would Mary Poppins have done?” I said piously as we drove home from the theatre, “she would probably have explained firmly that we had no money and then taken her home with no sickly sweet treat but then found something for her in the fridge instead.

“We should have been firm and not given in” I added sagely.

“Pah” said Mr FB.

“Mary Poppins would have magicked up the flipping pound, wouldn’t she?! Pulled out a wad of notes from her big bag like a dodgy plumber!” he added.

This is true! Making things fly across the room or suddenly appear from nowhere is enough to capture the attention of even the most obtuse child, but no matter. While we may not have the carpet bag of tricks, we do have one fabulous treat at our disposal. A trip to see Mary Poppins should keep the little darlings quiet and enthralled for a couple of hours at least! This is a great show!

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