Culture Theatre

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang review at the New Theatre

★★★☆☆

by Sarah Thompson

As somebody who recently saw the Millennium centre performance of this show, the New Theatre had a lot to live up to in my eyes.

First of all, I want to announce that this performance has 2 dogs in it, and that immediately makes it worth watching.

There’s no denying that this show was often lacking in set design and props, giving it a somewhat pantomime feel. However I’ve decided to take this opinion with a grain of salt, as it isn’t a “West end” theatre with an endless budget, and the show was ideal for children and musical lovers, also.

My main wish for this show was that the chorus singers were just a tad louder; they had some phenomenal singers with a beautiful blend of harmonies, and yet they sank behind the brilliant orchestra and principal roles.

Speaking of phenomenal singers, I want to give a special shout-out to all of the leading ladies of the show; from song to song, Truly, the Baroness, and Jemima (played by Hannah Rix, Laura Phillips, and Maisey Thornhill, respectively), had me in awe. As a low alto at best, the Baroness soaring at the end of ‘Chu-Chi Face’ filled me with envy. The chemistry between the Baron and his wife was undoubtadle, and I loved every second of them bouncing off of each other.

Whilst at times the costume designs seemed questionable (Truly’s ‘Toot sweets’ dress didn’t scream powerful upper-class lady, but rather leftover pink tulle?) the Childcatcher’s aesthetic was incredible. From his first second on stage, everybody was shivering; the makeup work to alter his facial features alongside the menacing clothing were the perfect mixture to shoot me back to the fear I felt when I was a child. This reaction, however, was often missing in the ensemble, as many of the children struggled to stay in character when the focus was not on their area of the stage. This is infamously difficult to do, so I’m not surprised considering the age of many of the cast, however this occasionally translated into the adult chorus as well, which took away some of the magic of the theatre. Thankfully the Toymaker was there to balance everything out; he was friendly from the get-go and somehow made me trust him, even though I was just an audience member. The dichotomy between Childcatcher and Toymaker was perfect, and each character emphasised the key traits of the other.

Speaking of missing magic, I was disappointed that the “doll on a music box” was missing some key features: a key which makes a crank sound when it is spun, and a turning stand, to name the main aspects. Again, I must remember that this theatre does not have an endless budget, however Truly singing about “turning around and around” whilst not turning did disappoint slightly. Having said that, Rix’s ability to recreate Sally Ann Howes’ “robotic” routine was outstanding. This – alongside Caractacus Potts (Lewis Cook) doing Dick Van Dyke proud as the raggedy doll – made the party scene swell with nostalgia.

WAIT, THE DOG IS BACK.

Okay, time to breathe.

Despite my whinging and whining, the show was a resounding success; the dance numbers were energetic and the vocals were fantastic across the board. Special recognition must be given to my all-time Chitty favourites, ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and ‘Ol Bamboo’, for being simply mesmerising. The orchestra never missed a beat and the lighting team was on the ball with follow spots. If I were to change only one thing, it would be adding a scrolling backdrop when Chitty is moving, just to add to the magic. But with energy, joy, and humour through the roof, I would highly recommend this show to anybody, and at only £20 a ticket, it really is worth the trip.

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