I started the blog almost a year ago with a retrospective review of Mary Poppins the first time it was in the west end. So you may be able to imagine my excitement when I heard it was heading back to the Prince Edward Theatre.
Most people will recognize Mary Poppins from the film they watched in childhood. While the characters remain the same and they retain most of the iconic songs this is a big departure from that story. The plot is significantly updated from the film and it’s all the better for it. It’s the story of the Banks family: a father who is detached; a mother who is uncertain of her role; two unruly children; and the nanny that comes into their lives to help the family come together and realize what is important. The story is a lot deeper than you might expect, delving back to the source material to bring in different parts of the story. The classic original songs are still there with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious bringing the house down, along with some excellent new songs including the aptly named Practically Perfect and the positive life affirming Anything can Happen.
The iconic title role is taken on by Zizi Strallen, with the last time we saw her having been in Strictly Ballroom. She was able to demonstrate her incredible dancing in that show but her voice was much underused there. In this show she really demonstrates her incredible vocal ability alongside exceptional acting and dancing. Her Mary is the right amount of stern and playful bring her own affectations to make the role her own. She understands that Mary is there to teach not just the children but also the adults and ensures the audience is aware of this.
And while we’re talking of triple threats, we must discuss Charlie Stemp, who’s Bert provides the perfect mischievous antidote to Mary’s straight laced demeanor. Charlie is mesmerising and while he is excellent throughout his dancing is outstanding, from the jaunty Jolly Holiday through to the high energy tap dancing of Step In Time. We know we need to see this more than once
Then we move the banks family. Amy Griffiths plays a fragile Mrs Banks, trying to meet her husbands and her own expectations, but who finds strength when needed (passing the test of character she feels she fails). She is so genuine you warm to her instantly. Mr Banks is just as fragile, hidden behind his expectation of himself while hiding parts of his upbringing. He is played superbly by Joseph Millson. The characters story arcs are well understood and heart warming.
And of course there are the Banks children, Jane and Michael. The children playing these roles barely leave the stage and did an excellent job.
The entire company is magnificent. It really is a team effort and the whole stage explodes with energy during the bigger numbers, breathing so much life and excitement into the show.
The set was incredible in the last production which didn’t need any updating. However, there are several parts that have been changed. The most notable is the house which has changed so that it now moves out of a picture into view before opening out across the stage. While this is clever personally I preferred the previous house set as this felt smaller and made some stage directions slightly odd but I doubt that would be noticed by anyone who hasn’t seen it before. And there are some great updates to the set too, one of the most noticeable being the stunningly quick yet seamless scene change in Jolly Holiday.
One disappointing part though was have Playing the Game replace Temper Temper. The original song worked well in the context of the show where as Playing the Game doesn’t have the impact that they need at that point.
With that being said I feel I should caveat it with Mary’s words “some minor improvements may not go amiss but…I’m practically perfect in every way”. And it really is. It’s not often you gets shows as special as this. This is theatre at it’s best and it truly does deliver stage magic whilst having a wholesome message about love and family.
So it feels pointless saying it but yes…5 Laura Michelle-Kelly stars! Get tickets here: https://tickets.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/index.asp?ShoID=24