MARY POPPINS – 28 OCTOBER 2004, BRISTOL

This show is something no one could fail to enjoy, the opportunity to go back to the time when as a child you could watch in wonder as magic, illusion happen before your eyes. Live theatre can never been beaten and Mary Poppins proves that 100%.

The show creates image upon image which build and at the same time contrast and compliment each other. Images such as the opening silhouette of the roof tops and top, the smoke filled rooftops with sweeps shadowed in the fog, the black and white figures of the park which make Mary and Jane’s coat colours stand out even more, the huge house set with the nursery on top which is subsumed within the roof of this ‘living’ dolls house, the bank with it’s bland black and white workers, Mr Bank’s world and the vibrant hidden market in the park.

There are so many things to mention including the illusions in ‘Practically Perfect’ with Mary’s bottomless bag and magical bed formed from a blanket, statues coming to life for ’Jolly Holiday’, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the dismembered dolls coming to life to put Jane and Michael on trial after they have fought for one of the toys, the illusion of the dolls house as a doll is put in and a moment later a full size doll emerges, the fantastic tap routine for ‘Step in Time’ including never before seen tap and singing as Bert literally climbs around the proscenium arch of the theatre, the stars and ladders of the heavens for ‘Anything can Happen’ and then the simplicity of ‘Feed the Birds’ and ‘Lets go Fly a Kite’, the latter on the open stage with just a distance silhouette of the city.

The combination of simple set scenes / minimalist scenery contrasting with the main set pieces means each scene has it’s own impact and there is not a feeling of scenery for the sake of scenery, the story is there to be told and the scenery and staging for each scene is reflective of that. No scene is wasted or superfluous and yet within all this spectacle there remains the story of one family learning to become a true family for the first time with help from Mary and Bert.

Laura Michelle Kelly is excellent as Mary, never flustered into showing unrehearsed emotion, well except for one moment as she touches her lips after giving Bert a kiss. She is a calming influence on the dysfunctional of the Bank’s family and no one ever questions her. She is a temporary guardian angel watching over the family as they come together and she even gains the admiration of the cook Mrs Brill. She had a lovely clear voice and charm which makes the audience warm to her immediately.

Gavin Lee was just fabulous as Bert, a true song and dance man and excelling at both. A cheeky charm which has the audience with him from the start as he plays part narrator and varying other jobs around the children’s street. Bert has his own ability for magic when Mary is there for Bert is a believer and a believer knows that ‘anything can happen if you let it’

David Haig is the angst and, thanks to his upbringing by his nanny, unable to display love for his wife and children. He has to learn to show the love he never ever received. Again he was spot on with his character showing the repressed man who we know from hints in the story that once he had the ability to imagine aswell, his final energetic burst of a man free at last has the audience cheering for him.

Linzi Hateley was excellent as Mrs Banks who must learn to stand up for herself and not just be seen as Mrs Banks, wife and mother. She doesn’t have a huge amount to sing but she has the lovely song ‘Being Mrs Banks’. The journey she and Mr Banks take is well constructed and portrayed well by both

Nicola Bowman and Ben Watton were very good as Jane and Michael. Ben was a little hesitant on some of the lines leading up to ‘Temper Temper’ scene but both carried off their parts with charm and presence.

Jenny Galloway has a great way of delivering lines to the most humorous effect, her face can portray so much more than she ever says. Her sidekick is the dopey Robertson Ay (Gerard Carey) who is nice but basically clueless, unable to cope with more than one instruction at a time yet has a surprise in store in ‘A spoonful of sugar’ as his full voice is heard.

Rosie Ashe is in full throttle as the hideous ‘holy terror’ known as Miss Andrew , Mr Banks former nanny. She may only appear briefly but what an impact she has as she arrives in the house ready to take over. With a little help from Mary she literally gets a dose of her own medicine and leaves the house in the same manner as her lark arrived.

Also to mention Julia Sutton as the bird woman lost in her own world, Melanie la Barrie as vibrant Mrs Corry and Stuart Neal as the statue Neleus.

For complicated dance sequences Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious will take a lot of beating as Mary, Bert and Mrs Corry lead a wonderfully colourful cast as they spell, in perfect unison, and very quickly, the aforesaid word.

The show is a mix of part film and part book and the two come together extremely well. Half of the score will be new to the audiences ears, written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and even the familiar songs, by Sherman Brothers, have been re-orchestrated so the two piece together very comfortably as one score. Chim Chim Cheree is used as a continuing narrative throughout as opposed to a routine but ‘Step in Time’ blows away any regrets of that, ‘Anything can happen’ brings the show to a rousing conclusion, well almost as one final farewell from Mary flying into the darkness brings the show to it’s conclusion. The music is fresh and bright and the cast give it their all, it is a great sound supported by a great sounding orchestra.

Watching with childlike wonderment Mary Poppins engages, delights and leaves you with a huge smile on you face, a theatrical high and a sense of being allowed to let your child excitement out. It is magical !!

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