For my first theatre trip of 2017, I was surprised with tickets to see the touring production of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays. I grew up not being a particular fan of the film, so was sceptical about the stage version and what it would entail. How would it all work?
For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the story of the widowed inventor Caractacus Potts who, with the help of his children Jeremy and Jemima, sets about restoring an old Grand Prix winning race car. Once the car is restored, they discover the car has the ability to float and fly, which attracts the attention of foreign royalty. Trouble occurs when the King of Vulgaria Baron Bomburst wants the magic car for himself and will do anything to get his hands on it.
On the Lowry stop of the tour, Jason Manford was in the lead role as Caratacus Potts and Charlotte Wakefield was Truly Scrumptious. At this performance, Jeremy was played by Jacob Bland, and Jemima by Tyana Lily Millington. Claire Sweeney was a fantastic Baroness Bomburst and Phill Jupitus a convincing evil Baron Bomburst. The terrifying Childcatcher is played by Joss Vantyler who depicts the Childcatcher perfectly, with a stage presence that gives even the adults the creeps. A special mention must go to Sam Harrison and Scott Paige who played Boris and Goran respectively, as they carried the lighthearted humor of the show perfectly, all whilst being Vulgarian spies.
As the show began Jason Manford entered the stage to loud applause and I was pleasantly surprised by his singing ability, as I had not previously known he could sing. The young performers were incredibly talented and each held their own amongst the strong ensemble cast in the opening number.
The first act of the show is full of poignant moments between Potts and his children, particularly in the songs ‘You Two’ and ‘Hushabye Mountain’, where they reminisce about their mother. Toot Sweets is possibly one of the better songs of the show, as the cast get involved by playing the tune on stage with the whistle sweets. The numbers are fun and keep the audience, which as it was a saturday matinee was mostly children, engaged. Boris and Goran were the standouts of act one, as their comedic timing and eccentric manners earned loud laughter from a majority of the audience, even though they were only on stage for a minute or two at a time. We do not meet Baron and Baroness Bomburst until near the end of the first act, which was a shame as I would have loved to see more of Claire Sweeney, as I feel she is underappreciated in the role. The title number Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rounds off the first act in a way which gives everyone that feeling of awe and wonder.
The second act begins in Vulgaria, a country where children are banned. The family meet a Toymaker who agrees to hide the family until the Childcatcher passes, but unfortunately the children get taken as he poses to be selling ice creams. We then jump to the castle for the Baron’s birthday celebrations, which begins with the number Chu-Chi Face sang by the Baron and Baroness to each other. Claire Sweeney and Phill Jupitus were incredible. The way they both played to the audience had people in stitches. There are a few scene jumps with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it explanations, but for those who knew the story, this was not a problem. Charlotte Wakefield shone superbly as Truly in all of the numbers she was in, and you could tell she was perfectly suited to the role and seemed to enjoy herself. The show ended with a large company rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with which the audience sang and clapped along. The show overall was enjoyable, and the younger family members which I had with me all seemed to enjoy the show as much as I did.
The staging itself could have been better, as the set did not fill the large space available and the first meter of the stage was not used, which would have made everything feel less squashed. The use of the windmill as the ‘curtain’ was genius as it had its own exits and entrances and doubled up as a projector screen. The lighting design was clever as there was softer lighting where needed and harsher lighting when the Childcatcher was around which added to the mood. If I was going to be really picky, I’d mention how the microphones seemed to be quite quiet in contrast to the orchestra, but overall the sound was good.
The view from my Upper Circle seat at the Lowry.
Unfortunately, this show only has one stop left on the tour which is the Bristol Hippodrome from Jan 25th until Feb 4th. If you’re in the area, definitely check this out. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I can assure you that you will too.