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Review of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I have seen a few touring shows of extremely well known shows like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a few have been quite a disappointment. Producers sitting back happy to sell the tickets on the name of a show, and deliver on stage not necessarily a terrible production, but one that sometimes never really leaves you feeling you have got value for your money.

Music & Lyrics/West Yorkshire Playhouse's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is far from one of them. An exemplary and large cast, costumes both in multitude and wonderful to look at, a set of infinite invention and a hidden but quality and large orchestra.

Jason Manford as Caractacus Potts
Perhaps more importantly this show also doesn't fail on its casting of "stars" over stage talent, for in the lead is Jason Manford as Caractacus Potts, an artist known for his comedy more than his acting history, and certainly little known for his singing ability, is a revelation. Likable, dominant on stage with clear characterisation and an amazingly strong voice, most clearly presented in his crisp and beautiful performance of the challenging Hushabye Mountain. He is clearly an accomplished performer on stage, having all the larger than life emotions for the daft outlandish scenes, and subtle and soft with his budding romance with Truly Scrumptious.
Carrie Hope Fletcher as Truly Scrumptious
Truly is played with wild-eyed wonder by the effervescent and far more experienced stage performer Carrie Hope Fletcher. An obviously skilled performer, she is always confident on stage and has a gorgeously sweet singing voice and the wonder of her performance of Doll on a Music Box is one to cherish. It is easy to see why Potts children fall in love with her also. These two wonders in the performance I saw were played by the "Purple Team" of Henry Kent (Jeremy Potts) and Lucy Sherman (Jemima Potts). They are superb in every way, taking us with them on their adventure with spirited enthusiasm. Their singing is also quite wonderful, with Sherman in particular already very accomplished in delivery at such an early age.

Phill Jupitus as Baron Bombust
Claire Sweeney as Baroness Bomburst

Almost disappointing in the cast, but only because the others are so brilliant are Claire Sweeney (Baroness Bomburst) and Phill Jupitus (Baron Bombust). While Jupitus captures most of the time the abject boredom of everything other than toys in his life, his baddie of the piece is not a particularly exciting character. Likewise Sweeney, despite her background never quite performs as big and bold as you feel you want. The singing routines she performs are actually quite plain compared with everything else in the show, and rely more on the company to make them work than the main performer.

Matt Gillett as The Childcatcher
Andy Hockley as Grandpa Potts




















Never a disappointment though are Sam Harrison as Boris and Scott Paige as Goran. Appearing frequently as the dastardly spies in a feast of costumes, they easily steal every scene they appear in and their Act English performance was a show highlight. Elsewhere there was a delightful performance from Andy Hockley as Grandpa Potts, a joyful double turn from Ewen Cummins as Bill Coggins and The Toymaker. Also scary enough without being quite as sinister as the original film incarnation is Matt Gillett as The Childcatcher, think more panto baddie for this one. A final special mention for the community youngsters that brought joy in particular to the Teamwork routine.

Ensemble
The nineteen strong ensemble bring epic set pieces to the stage under both the brilliant direction of James Brining and Stephen Mear's choreography. Numbers like Me Ol' Bamboo and The Bombie Samba are a brilliant visual feast and provide everything that an audience deserves from such a classic show. There is also heavy use of video projection (from Simon Wainwright) in the show, which has been a thing of contention from me in the past as a lazy method of progressing the story. However this time it works in creating something that simply would be impossible to do on stage otherwise. Indeed at times it compliments many scenes in a perfect way, and is perhaps more importantly high quality with a lovely watercolour style.

Lucy Sherman (Jemima Potts), Jason Manford (Caractacus Potts), Henry Kent (Jeremy Potts).
The video projection leads me finally to the none human star of the show, as it gives the journeys and adventures of Chitty herself the perfect background. Whether on land, sea or in the sky, designer Simon Higlett's Chitty is a fun and effective presence on stage. Technically perfect in the performance I saw and doing as much as you could ever wish a flying car on stage to do.

The definition of a five star production for me comes down to two things, would I watch it again and would I recommend without question a friend seeing it? Chitty Chitty Bang Bang happily fulfills both of these requirements unquestionably, so I will park these just here:
★★★★


Performance reviewed: Thursdays 22nd September (matinee), 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs at the Royal & Derngate until Sunday 3rd October, 2016 before continuing its tour. Details at 
http://chittythemusical.co.uk/

For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


Photos: Alistair Muir
The cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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