We’ve seen many Disney classics adapted from film to stage. The Lion King’s been running in the West End since 1999 and is still just as popular today; Mary Poppins continues to remain close to our hearts; Cinderella has finally officially opened, and Frozen will receive its UK premiere next month. I must be the only person who hasn’t bought and steamed my Elsa dress, ready to go for opening night!
Not every Disney film is remembered and nostalgia alone can’t be relied upon. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a strong fixture of my childhood and I can still sing the songs word for word, as well as understand the story without much concentration. Going to Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, I felt excited to see my favourite scenes re-enacted before my very eyes, but I was also aware that the less widely known film might have more trouble translating to the stage. So, is it ‘A Step in The Right Direction’ or does it require some ‘Negotiality’?
The story centres around three orphaned children, the ‘Rawlins’, who after reluctantly being evacuated from wartime London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, journey on a magical adventure after discovering their ward is a trainee witch. Armed with an enchanted bedknob, a bewitched broomstick and a magical flying bed, they encounter surprising new friendships along the way.
My imaginative senses are fired up from start to finish by illusions and puppetry skills, lighting effects and physical movement that best represent theatre in the 21st century. Dianne Pilkington carries the show with her elegant and perfectly cast singing voice, charming and adaptable with every movement. I am mesmerised by her as she performs the role of Eglantine Price with such ease and poise, making it look easier than it probably is to hold a tune while being lifted and dropped, flown and spun. She excels especially within the number ‘The Beautiful Briny’, a song/scene from the film that oozes with colour and fast-paced wonderment, as we enter an underwater animated sea life fantasy.
Other recognised songs are delivered with equal nostalgia. ‘The Age of Not Believing’ reminds us that growing up can be tough and that even as an adult we must stay hopeful, dare to dream and never forget our truth. ‘Portobello Road’ embraces the joy it is to visit a place like London, whether it be during a war or the modern-day. The atmosphere is alive with a multitude of cultures on stage, as well as providing a safe space for individuality, expressed beautifully by an ensemble who perform flawlessly in time with each other whilst displaying highly unique talents as individuals too.
The new musical numbers by Neil Bartram are unfortunately the moments where I lose concentration and where I fear those who are less familiar with the film might feel confused at what is going on. Here, I feel more room for additional storytelling would have been beneficial. There are moments of dialogue that feel rushed and that are integral parts of the story – like the stealing of the star. These are skimmed over and rely on the audience to already knowing what is going on.
Ultimately though, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a family show that takes us away from the realities of a world still searching for answers and into one that might not make sense at first, but takes you far away, deep into the wonders of your imagination. I don’t know about you, but even as an adult, that is something I still need from time to time.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is touring until 1 May 2022. For more information and tickets visit The Disney Website.