Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Adapted by Jeremy Sams from the MGM film by Ken Hughes and Roald Dahl
Music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman
Palace Theatre, Manchester, and touring
Armed with a new £750,000 car built especially for the tour and half a million pounds-worth of costumes, the massive stage adaptation of the 1968 MGM film featuring Ian Fleming's second-best-known character flies into Manchester once more for a short run.
The story is pure children's fantasy, following brother and sister Jeremy and Jemima Potts with no mother and an inventor father Caractacus who scrapes together the money (by inventing "toot sweets" that are sweet and fruity but can be played like a recorder) to buy an old car that won the Grand Prix in 1910 but which is now, only a few years later, just a rusted pile of scrap metal. Caractacus fixes the car up like new and they all go on a picnic with the sweet factory owner's daughter Truly Scrumptious, but they don't know that the toy-loving Baron of Vulgaria has sent his spies out to steal the car for himself. However the car has a mind of its own and some tricks up its inner tubes that they didn't suspect. They end up in the Teutonic land of Vulgaria where children are banned by order of the Baroness and the sinister Child Catcher roams the streets to clear up any strays and make them disappear.
All of this is totally unbelievable but great fun with quite a mix of the cliché (we know, as the children do, that Caractacus and Truly will get together because they hate each other at first sight) and much more original ideas, just as the comedy ranges from the dreadfully corny and predictable (is the weary old Shih Tzu gag appropriate for this show's target audience?) to material that may not be startlingly original but is polished and well-performed. Similarly some of the songs by the Sherman Brothers are unmemorable and some are obviously fillers that do not serve any dramatic purpose, but then there are catchy or sweet songs that stick in the mind such as the showstopping "Me Ol' Bamboo", "Hushabye Mountain", "Truly Scrumptious" and, of course, the title song.
Darren Bennett gives a solid, likeable performance as Caractacus, supported very well by Katie Ray as Truly Scrumptious with her precise Mary Poppins-style diction when speaking and singing and John Griffiths as Grandpa. There is a nice, tender performance from Tony Jackson as both the garage owner Coggins and the Toymaker. Max Patrick Weitzman and Mia Jenkins played the two children on press night and both gave very natural performances. Kim Ismay gives a scene-stealing comic performance as the Baroness but Edward Peel certainly manages to hold his own as the Baron, and there is a nice comic pairing of Nigel Garton and Richard Ashton as the spies Goran and Boris. Dean Maynard looks perfect as the Child Catcher but is less convincing in the part when speaking.
The star of the show, however, is the car, which looks beautiful and, with some clever lighting and engineering, flies smoothly at some frighteningly-steep angles and keeps its mechanism pretty well concealed. Of course the dogs also steal the few scenes they appear in; at one point a whole pack of dogs runs across the stage and obediently off the other side.
While not all of the songs are hits and some of the tackier gags could do with being pruned out, this show is a decent piece of family entertainmentin the sense of entertainment for all of the family, not just the childrenwith lots of comedy, some scary bits and a special effect that you are made to wait for but when it comes it is quite breathtaking.
Running until 15th May
Reviewer: David Chadderton