The world’s favourite, “practically perfect” nanny returns to London in this revival of Mary Poppins, a hybrid of the much-loved 1964 film, the books of PL Travers, and some new material from writer Julian Fellowes with songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
The Sherman brothers songs from the Disney screen version have been cut back – big set pieces Chim Chim Che-ree/Step in Time, Let’s Go Fly a Kite, and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious survive the scissors, plus a snatch of A Spoonful of Sugar, but favourites such as the ceiling tea party and the bank choral piece are gone.
In their place are Mrs Corry’s sweet shop, with shining gingerbread stars, and a terrifying couple of scenes – Mr Banks’s old nanny, Miss Andrew proves to be a mirror of The Wizard of Oz‘s Wicked Witch, and the discarded toys take over the nursery in Playing the Game.
Mrs Banks no longer marches for women’s suffrage, but regrets leaving the stage behind for respectable society; the kitchen proves a riot on the eve of a dinner party; and instead of a run on the bank, a couple of contrasting investments cause Banks to fall out of favour and become increasingly dischevelled.
In casting Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp as Mary and Bert, Richard Eyre’s production adds a firm but fair portrayal of the nanny who has an understated arrival but a spectacular exit, and a sense of cheeky fun in the chap who has “learned every trade”.
Joseph Millson as Banks needs a little more backbone and amplification, but he sings well enough and gives a sense of the conventially repressed Victorian male, eventually proving to be rather touching as he remembers how to be a father.
Amy Griffiths is sparkling as the showgirl who is coming to terms with Being Mrs Banks, and Imogen Bourn’s Jane and Joseph Duffy’s Michael are fine as the children. She’s a bit more temperamental than the Disney version, and he’s a terror, but their sense of wonder is lovely.
Claire Moore is so good as the gorgon Miss Andrew you have to like her, while Malinda Parris has infectious charm as the witch who has the power to recall the past. Add in Petula Clark’s haunting bit as the Bird Woman (happy birthday, as she turned 87 yesterday), and you have a decent team of leads.
Then there’s the magic. Flying, tricks, illusions, all of which hark back to the innocence of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. With a fantastic automated set from Bob Crowley, strong lighting by Hugh Vanstone, acrobatic statues, and a vibrant musical accompaniment conducted by Graham Hurman, Mary Poppins will keep you smiling.
It does have to be said that there were still some slight sound issues last night, as reported during previews, and I hope these can be addressed soon: they are not enough to detract from the enjoyment of the show, but still enough not to go unmentioned.
In all, this is a marevellous and enjoyable show which can be enjoyed by those new to Poppins and fans of the classic film alike. It is currently playing at the Prince Edward until the end of March 2020.
Photo credits Johan Persson.