If there is one thing that reminds us all of the wonder of being a child, it’s Disney and for many years Disney Theatrical has been bringing this magic to the stage in the most wonderful way. The Lion King is a London favourite and Aladdin was a hit for a number of years, and now the world’s most famous Nanny has returned to the West End in a magical, wonderful new production of Mary Poppins. With brilliant special effects, an incredible set and some incredible performances from it’s talented cast, this production is everything I wanted it to be and much more.
Now, I’ll admit, I have a massive soft spot for Mary Poppins, I adore it, everything about it. I saw the tour a few years ago and knew that I simply had to return to Cherry Tree Lane as soon as the new London production was announced. There is something magical about Mary Poppins, the wonderful adventures and the outpouring of love, it just makes my heart soar and this production makes it all the more special.
From the moment the show begins, you are carried away into the enchanting world of Cherry Tree Lane, where Jane and Michael Banks terrorise their nannies with tricks and running away acts, where Mister Banks runs his home like a business and the house staff are just trying to hold it all together. With the sudden arrival of Mary Poppins, the Banks Family have their eyes opened to the possibilities, experience the impossible and learn some important lessons.
The set by Bob Crowley is simply wonderful, with the Banks home opening up like a dollhouse as we are taken across rooftops with the chimney sweeps and through technicoloured wonderlands on a Jolly Holiday with Mary. It is enough to bring out the child in anyone, even those with the coldest of hearts. It is everything that we love about the classic film, the bursts of colour in the greyness, the magic in everyday items and the realisation that anything is possible. The stage production takes inspiration both from the film and the books, and it is from the books that the darker moments come. We see the horrible Ms Andrews and toys coming to life on a massive scale, which I think came as a surprise to some in the audience. Whilst the darker moments add a more grown up element to the story, they also highlight the importance of taking the dark with the light, an important lesson for the Banks family.
You simply cannot fault the cast of this amazing production. Zizi Strallen leads the impeccable cast as the magical nanny herself. Prim and proper with beautiful vocals, she makes the entire performance look effortless. She makes the character entirely her own, bringing in elements from the original books and adding a further depth to this much-loved role. Every smile, every magical moment enchants the audience and her interactions with Jane and Michael Banks are charming as is her brilliant chemistry with Charlie Stemp in the role of Bert. Throughout the show, it is Charlie Stemp who provides a number of scene stealing moments in this role that he was clearly born to play. He suits the cheeky chappy part to an absolute tee, with Bert acting almost as a narrator to the piece whilst taking on multiple different trades. One moment, he’s an artist, then a lamp lighter, then a chimney sweep. Every action is precise, and every smile lights up the stage, he is a delight to watch and his dancing is some of the best you can currently find on the stage anywhere. He leads the act two spectacular ‘Step In Time’ with ease and receives rapturous applause for the numbers climax (no spoilers). It is clear that he is loving every moment of it which only makes it all the more enjoyable for the audience.
Joseph Millson plays Mr Banks brilliantly, showing a man who is struggling to keep a hold on his place in the world and find the balance he so needs between work and family. We see this character change throughout the show and Millson is able to illustrate this change very well alongside Amy Griffiths as Mrs Banks. Claire Machin and Jack North are a comedy double act delight as the Banks house staff Mrs Brill and Robertson Ay struggling to keep the children under control and keep the house up to standards. Charlotte Breen and Samuel Newby are wonderful as Jane and Michael. The ensemble bounce from character to character with an apparent ease, becoming living statues, bank clerks, kite flyers and chimney sweeps with a boundless energy from start to finish.
To quote Mary Poppins’ famous line, everything about this production is ‘practically perfect in every way’. It’s creative, colourful and magical in every moment. Even though I could see how some of the tricks were done, some of them still had me baffled and there is something wonderful about that. This is a show that makes you forget about the real world for a little while as you allow yourself to be whisked away in the wonder of it all. This is a show that will make your cheeks hurt from smiling so much and will leave you with the message that anything can happen if you let it.