Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Gaiety Theatre – Review
Find out more about this production here
23rd – 27th of March, 2022
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is set during the second world war and tells the story of three children who are orphaned after their house is destroyed. They are sent to the country to keep them safe as the bombing of London continues. Once there, they meet the mysterious Miss Price. They quickly discover that she is an apprentice witch. She is learning magic through a correspondence course and receives letters from Professor Emelius Browne in London. When she receives a final letter from the Professor to say he’s closing the school, she sets off with the children to visit him in London using the only obvious method of transport, a magic bed!
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a Disney film from 1971 which used live-action actors combined with animation to create something quite lavish. It is based upon the books of English children’s author Mary Norton including The Magic Bedknob; and Bonfires and Broomsticks. The film starred Angela Lansbury of Murder She Wrote fame. Interestingly, the film originally started development as Disney struggled to secure the rights to Mary Poppins. After the rights to Mary Poppins were secured, it was briefly shelved due to similarities between the two main characters. Bedknobs and Broomsticks was eventually released seven years after Mary Poppins. While the film never quite hit classic status, it is still a well-loved children’s film.
It is always difficult to convert a film that uses animation and special effects to the stage, but this production uses a variety of techniques such as magic tricks and puppetry to recreate the world. We see various characters lifting off the stage, as well as the bed with the entire cast on board! While it seems obvious that this is done with wires, the fact that the bed moves through windows and under arches moves this closer to a magic show at times. There are also a variety of loveable puppets and one of the highlights of the production is the visit to the underworld kingdom of the “Beautiful Briny Sea”.
While the story remains similar to the original movie there are a few twists and turns that might surprise fans of the original, including the ending. The production is firmly aimed at younger members of the audience and is very family-friendly. The original songs of the Sherman Brothers (who were responsible for the scores for Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book) feature along with some new numbers by Neil Bartram, and you could hear the audience singing along to the well-known songs. The ensemble cast is in constant motion, as the special effects and puppetry require great attention to detail. The more complex bears and birds require two or three cast members to animate them. The final word must go to Dianne Pilkington, who is very impressive in the role of Miss Price and really holds the production together with her commanding stage presence!
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