REVIEW: Bedknobs and Broomsticks – a musical with infinite potential

Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Photo Credit Johan Persson

Venue: The Alexandra, Birmingham

Performance Date: 11 November 2021

Reviewer: Ely King

Star Rating: ★★★

Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the classic Disney film, was released 50 years ago this year and starred Angela Lansbury as the eclectic would-be witch, Eglantine Price. For many, Bedknobs holds a special nostalgic place in their heart, with the whimsical characters and old-school animation synonymous with their childhood. With the original being held in such high esteem, it was always going to be a bold move to attempt to transfer the movie magic to the stage. Unfortunately for the stage version, some diehard fans of the film will likely feel somewhat short-changed. 

Overall, the show is a touch long and at times feels incredibly frenzied. That said, the casting for this production should be highly commended. Dianne Pilkington, performing as Miss Price is a true star, she embodies the character wholly and passionately, throwing in puns with perfect timing and having the perfect flair for the dramatic that Angela Lansbury made famous. Pilkington is everything you would want from Miss Price, with the addition of some truly incredible vocals. If there could be reviews for individual performances, she would get five stars. Maybe even six.

The biggest gripe with the show is the set design and excessive use of props. At times, the old-school stage magic becomes diluted by the constant and frantic transitions. This isn’t helped by the scene changes, which feel like the entire company is on stage at any given time. This becomes distracting and dizzying. The props and set components are moved on and offstage by the ensemble, and whilst they are in costume and attempt to add some artistic flair, there is only so much you can do with a cardboard cut-out of a cloud. That said, Rob Madge’s embodiment of an inanimate wheel is somewhat iconic. We will come back to them later.

Despite the busy staging and prop extravaganza, the titular items, the broomstick, and the bedknob, are the most impressive features of the entire show. Miss Price’s unruly broomstick provides the humorous and playful addition you come to expect in a Disney production. The broomstick’s lively and mischievous attempts to throw off the apprentice witch bring the comic relief in abundance.

The children starring as Paul and Carrie Rawlins are sensational, showing the pure innocence of children in a world of war and magic. Jasper Hawes as Paul leaves the other two siblings in the dust with his acting, portraying the character perfectly, from his frustration with his siblings to the pronunciation battle of ‘Nopeepo’.

Graduate Conor O’Hara makes his professional debut as Charlie Rawlins. There is no doubt that he is a talented actor, he is just a bit too old for the role, something out of his control. In the main, he has the cockney down, but there are occasional dalliances into other accents. O’Hara will undoubtedly continue to hone his skills both during this tour and beyond.

­­The second half of the show is infinitely stronger than the first, with the additions of puppets and neon staging, it is instantly much more immersive and impressive than what has come before. Instantly, as the family land in Nopeepo, Rob Madge as Norton A, Fish steals the show. Many will know them from their social media presence or their portrayal of Gavroche in Les Misérables, but this role is sure to be a new hit for their portfolio.

Overall, Bedknobs does feel oddly disjointed, it’s difficult to put your finger on why. There is some great acting, including a star turn from Pilkington, and some fun effects on show with the flying broom and bed. Despite this, it just doesn’t feel enough to elevate this production to the dizzying heights of its Disney contemporaries.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks has infinite potential, and the ingredients are there, a talented cast, strong core material in the form of a much-loved film, and an experienced creative team. The show is still in its infancy and will undoubtedly be honed and toned along the way. It’s no Mary Poppins, but then neither was its film counterpart. Bedknobs is probably a show that is better taken in with no prior knowledge of the original film.

Runs until: 14 November 2021 and on tour

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