Simon Hale is enchanted by a family classic at the Alex.
What could be appropriate in a time of Remembrance and a pandemic than a feel-good family show that conjures up the full breadth of the imagination?
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has arrived at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham as a thrilling mix of music and magic set in the darkest days of the Second World War.
An adaptation of the 1971 Disney classic, it follows the other-worldly adventures of three siblings evacuated from London to the home of Miss Eglantine Price, an apprentice witch.
Eglantine takes ‘Professor’ Emelius Browne and the children on a quest to seek out the spells on which the defence of Britain rests – one that involves travelling fully flatbed class to the bottom of the sea and then on to the animal isle of Naboombu.
Like the film starring Angela Lansbury, the production is full of innovatory storytelling and stage work. While the film was one of the first to combine live action with animation, this production combines brilliant puppetry to bring talking animals to life and stagehands physically changing the scenery.
From a lion king that hates people to a fish that loves a good song contest, the show suspends all disbelief, as do the many moments of magic when you see a broomstick or a bed fly through the sky apparently without any form of support, and a human turned into a rabbit through a puff of smoke.
Dianne Pilkington acts and sings her role with aplomb as the eccentric spinster who has lost touch with childhood but warms to having acquired a new family. Her attempts at mastering her art are as funny as Dick Van Dyck’s attempts at invention as Caractacus Potts in Mary Poppins, a show with so many similarities.
You can’t also help but think of Harry Potter when you see the three children awestruck by the displays of magic. Conor O’Hara, Isabella Bucknell and Dexter Barry were excellent as Charlie, Carrie and Paul on press night, the latter enjoying a cheeky grin as the one given the power of the bed knob.
Charles Brunton is also fine as a charmingly likeable Browne, whose youth given that David Tomlinson played him middle-aged in the film, is a surprise unless you simply regard it as part of his con to claims of wizardry.
The catchy songs, including new ones by the Sherman Brothers, are well sung, fully complement the action, and are supported by an excellent orchestra.
As family entertainment for these times, you’ll not find anything more spellbinding.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is in performance at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Sunday, November 14th (Box office 0844 871 3011 or here) and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from April 5th-9th, 2022.
Pics – Johan Persson