Here’s the idea. Take a children’s story, get the Sherman brothers to write some memorable music and lyrics and then introduce some sophisticated choreography from Stephen Mear and you’ve got yourself a hit that appeals to all ages. Well, based on the evidence of music and lyrics and the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that’s exactly what happens. It certainly happened last night as the current touring production started an extended 10-day visit to the New Victoria leaving an audience of all ages with a definite feel-good factor.
For the tour, Simon Higlet has produced a fascinating set combining a multi-scene backcloth that incorporates video projection with real time action and even allows the famous car itself to fly. The story centres round a less than successful widowed inventor, Caractacus Potts, who is persuaded to buy the wreck of an old racing car, which his children play in, for thirty shillings and then sees his luck change as he converts it into a car that can fly. Word of the availability of the old car has reached the Baron of Vulgaria, a man who is apparently only happy when playing with his toys, indeed his chief assistant is his toymaker. Vulgaria is a land where children are no longer allowed – and any that do exist are soon trapped by the evil childcatcher while those who have escaped him live out their lives hidden in a cellar beneath the castle. The baron dispatches two emissaries, Boris and Goran, to buy the old racing car for him as yet another toy, but beaten to it by Caractacus they cover their failure by kidnapping Grandpa Potts believing him to be the inventor. Caractaus accompanied by his children and Truly Scrumptious, a lady he has helped following problems with her motorcycle, set off to rescue him and the rest of the story is what happens when they reach the baron’s castle.
Jason Manford makes a perfect Caractacus, and is well supported by Charlotte Wakefield as Truly Scrumptious and, last night, Henry Kent and Lucy Sherman as his children. The comedy is safe in the hands of Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as Boris and Goran while Phill Jupitus and Claire Sweeney as the Baron and Baronness add the appropriate touch of evil. The rest of the 30-plus strong cast contribute their professionalism ensuring that we have a truly scrumptious evening.
[Dermot Hoare 10 November 2016]
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is at Woking’s New Victoria theatre from Thursday 10 November to Saturday 19 November, including five matinees