The fantastical 1964 novel Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came to the big screen in 1968 to questionable reviews, yet its memorable Child Catcher and shoddy special effects has preserved it as a staple British children’s classic. This year the Lowry has adapted the iconic car for the stage, bringing a high-energy, feel-good classic to a new generation.
Jason Manford plays the peculiar Caracatus Potts whose comedy roots support the delivery of sharp dialogue and awkward dance numbers. It is fair to point out that the Morris dancing sequence that displayed Dick Van Dyke’s fast footwork With The Old Bamboo, was not at all replicated by Manford.
As Manford continues his transition to theatre, having completed a successful stint as Leo Bloom in the musical The Producers. The Potts children played by Henry Kent and Darcey Snare, round off Manchester’s local talent.
Countering the likable Potts is Manford’s Producers partner and fellow comedian, Phill Jupitus together with the cartoonish Vulgarian spies. This is a children’s comedy but the Vulgarian’s appearances were the only scenes that felt dated and erroneous. Jokes playing with mispronunciation and old school campy gestures were tacked on scenes, often interlinked with costume or set changes.
Despite the disjointed comedy, there were countless moments to appreciate during the show. I eagerly awaited the appearance of Jos Vantyler who did not disappoint as the Child Catcher, playfully taunting the children of Vulgaria in the second half of the production. The show has boundless energy but the second half is where the set up truly pays off. Performances with Jupitus’s singing Chu-Chi Face and Claire Sweeney’s Doll On A Music Box were brilliantly directed and performed.
Although the production ended rather abruptly, the show packed all thirteen songs, with remarkable dance numbers and extravagant sets. This spirited production was compelling to watch as the star of the show amazed the audience with its transformation. The use of hydraulics for Chitty, the flying car was impressive along with a cleaver use of projectors to aid illusion of flying.