No matter how old you get, there is always one thing that has the power to remind you of the wonder of being a child, and that one thing is Disney. Magic, music and merriment combined in wonderful packages that transport you away from the real world for a couple of hours. And as magical as it is to watch a Disney movie on the screen, it’s even more incredible to see a Disney classic on stage and thanks to Disney Theatrical, we can do just that. With The Lion King being a London favourite for over twenty years and Aladdin having been a hit recently as well, the world’s most famous Nanny is now back in the West End in a wonderful new production of Mary Poppins.
I have loved Mary Poppins ever since I was little, and this incredible show has made me love it even more. With incredible special effects, a beautiful set and a talented cast giving it their absolute all, this production is practically perfect in every way. As soon as the show starts, you are whisked away to Cherry Tree Lane, where Jane and Michael Banks terrorise their nannies and cause chaos whilst Mister Banks tries to run his home like a business and the household staff are struggling to hold it all together. Then 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.
It was a stroke of genius to cast Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp side by side as Mary and Bert, as both are incredible and share this wonderful chemistry that makes the characters all the more lovable. Strallen comes to the stage with a prim and proper manner, where every step is perfectly placed and every note fills the auditorium with ease. She is able to make the character entirely her own whilst maintaining the classic elements of the much loved nanny. Stemp as multi-talented Bert is a guaranteed scene stealer in this role that he was undoubtedly born to play. Throughout the show, Bert acts almost as a narrator to the piece, leading us through the story as he takes on a number of different trades, one moment he is a painter, then a lamp lighter then a chimney sweep. The act two showstopper ‘Step In Time’ is a real highlight and Stemp leads this with ease receiving rapturous applause for the numbers big moment. Charlie is a natural born performer, suiting the cheeky chappy character to a tee with his smile lighting up the stage as he draws your attention with his out of this world dance skill.
As Mr Banks, Joseph Millson puts in a impressive performance. Mr Banks is a show who is struggling to keep a hold of his place at work and to find the balance between work and family and Millson is able to illustrate the changes that this character goes through very well alongside Amy Griffiths as the charming Mrs Banks. A comedy double act dream comes in the form of Claire Machin and Jack North as Mrs Brill and Robertson Ay, with North’s antics alongside Ellie Kit Jones and Edward Walton as Jane and Michael in the kitchen scene almost feeling like something out of a brilliant Mischief Theatre ‘goes wrong’ show. I have to also credit the incredible ensemble who bounce from character to character with a seemingly never ending energy as they play living statues, bank clerks, kite flyers and chimney sweeps.
Bob Crowley’s set is breathtaking, with the Banks family home opening up like a dollhouse and set pieces gliding in and out effortlessly as we are transported through multicoloured wonderlands on jolly holidays and taken on adventures across rootfops with the cheerful chimney sweeps. By combining elements from both the film and the books, we see everything we loved about the original movie in the magic in everyday items and the realisation that anything is possible and the darker elements that perhaps made the books so popular. Whilst the more twisted moments may come to the surprise of some of the audience who perhaps expect everything to be sugary sweet, the scenes with the horrible Ms Andrews and the toys coming to life to teach the naughty Banks children a lesson add a more grown up element and highlight the important lesson of taking the dark with the light. If you look carefully, you may even see a few moments paying tribute to the movie sequel Mary Poppins returns.
This production is colourful and magical in every moment, and provides a wonderful escapism from the real world for a couple of hours. It oozes childhood charm with all the glitz and sparkle of a stage spectacular. There is something magical in seeing the children in the audience marvel over how the tricks are done and even those with the coldest of hearts will be amazed as Mary Poppins soars over the stage and magic seeps from every corner of the action. This is a show that will lift your spirits, warm your heart and make your cheeks hurt from smiling, all whilst sending you out after the show with a song stuck in your head and the message that anything can happen if you let it.