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Bedknobs And Broomsticks the Musical Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester

Heavy-handed cockney accents, underhanded Nazi’s and an animated misanthropic lion are all a part of the undervalued magic surround Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In a musical that blends the practical visual effects of apprentice witch, Eglantine Price against the backdrop of the Battle of Britain, the lite Mary Poppins production is a charmingly British but cheekier adaption of its overshadowing, Oscar-winning older sister.


The musical stage adaption has been somewhat kidified, scrubbing up the original stories loose ends and clarifying its heartfelt, “start believing” theme with bright new songs. But in removing all traces of the word Nazi, soldiers of the old home guard and even the Jamaican, Indian, Scottish, Australian and British remix rendition of Portobello Road that highlight other contributions to the war, the show feels a little hollow.


Hoping to assist with the war effort, we follow Eglantine (Dianne Pilkington) in her witchy training under Emelius Browne (Charles Brunton), a grifter who has happened upon a powerful book of spells. Offering the magic needed to upgrade her from bunny transformations to levitating objects Brunton brings the slapstick to Pilkington’s deadpan sense of humour. Unfortunately, due to a few missing pages and the war, Eglantine studies are constantly disrupted as three quick-witted ragamuffins named Charlie, Carrie and Paul are placed under her care due to evacuations from the Blitz. Throw in a little blackmail, an enchanted bed and some chart-topping tracks and you’ve got yourself a classic Disney narrative that lulls its audience with a make do and mend attitude.


Despite coming out in 1971, seven years after Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks cannot shake the comparisons. The similarities are enjoyable to spot, and the musical includes the discarded song The Beautiful Briny from the older classic. However, as Bedknobs celebrates its 50th anniversary, directors Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds thoroughly underscore the shows originality, mixing its old-fashioned narrative with superfluous antic and distinct illusions that make the live production a thrill to watch. As the original story includes far more colourful characters and a richer sense of Britain’s diversity, more emphasis is placed on a tapestry of entertainment, playing with its casting. Unfortunately, none of these kids don the gift of cockney rhyming slang but the shows focus on grandiose special effects gives this throwback musical a contemporary feel.


Revitalising the classic further, Edmunds and Harrison’s direction brings the forgotten, underwater Isle of Nopeople (once known as Naboombu) to the Palace theatre stage, in which its animated cast of animal inhabitants have been impressively puppeteered for the live adaption. Together with Miss Price’s spellbinding magic, a picture-perfect mixture of creepy and impressive levitations appear on stage while its leading lady makes light work of singing whilst levitating with invisible objects.


Disney’s distinct collection of songs including Age of Not Believing and Substitutionary Locomotion are wonderfully performed by its energetic cast. Lead by Pilkington, through this blindingly random tale, the stage adaption exchanges the common child actors of its feature film for exceptional vocal performers who do a magnificent job alongside their older colleagues.


Despite watering down the character-heavy cocktail of distinctive personalities, removing the classic line “get off my knob” and featuring no Dick Van Dyke’s British accent, Bedknobs and Broomsticks the Musical is a fabulous addition to the Disney repertoire. Including plenty to distract from the fact that the plot is inexplicably convoluted, the stage show transforms its 50-year-old hand-drawn animation and galvanises a journey to fight off what we can assume are still Nazi’s with magic musical spells. Really, what more could you ask for?


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