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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams
Palace Theatre, Manchester
(2006)

Photograph of the finale of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

After three weeks of being literally installed into the Palace Theatre, the spectacular West End production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - based on the MGM film, which was, in turn, based on the story by James Bond creator Ian Fleming - has arrived in Manchester.

The story contains all the right ingredients for a good family adventure story, including an inventor of bizarre machinery for household tasks (just like Wallace and Gromit), a slightly wacky grandfather, some funny and incompetent baddies, a bit of romance and, of course, a flying car. The car begins the show as a pile of scrap metal, but used to be a famous racing car and still has legends attached to it about some secret mechanisms that enable it to do special things. The car is found by brother and sister Jeremy and Jemima, who persuade their inventor father Caractacus Potts to buy and rebuild it. They name it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang after the sound the engine makes when they eventually manage to get it started. However Baron Bomburst of the wonderfully-named country of Vulgaria sends his men to get hold of the car and its secret as he wants it for himself. Of course Chitty has a few tricks up its sleeve to help save the day.

Jeremy Sams's adaptation keeps the spirit of the original films but brings it up to date, although there are some quite excruciatingly bad jokes thrown in there at times. Visually, the show is impressive; Anthony Ward's design includes some wonderful Heath Robinson-style machines as Caractacus Potts's inventions and the windmill where he lives, a pseudo-Nazi style for the Vulgarians' home, emblem and uniforms, a colourful sweet factory, a fascinating little cramped toy shop and, of course, the car itself. The car is very impressive, both for its design and for the amazing way it flies all over the stage, cleverly lit so that the mechanism is barely visible. At times it seems like a white knuckle ride for the actors, as the car is sometimes at a very steep angle, particularly in the scene where they drive over a cliff.

Brian Conley is chirpy and energetic as Caractacus Potts, as is Marissa Dunlop as Truly Scrumptious. Paul Greenwood somehow doesn't look right as Grandpa Potts, and the liveliness of his character makes him come over as more irritating than the lovable eccentric he is probably aiming for. Kevin Kennedy - yes, Coronation Street's Curly Watts - is suitably frightening as the Child Catcher, barely recognisable behind the make-up and microphone effects. Of course everyone (not just the children) looks forward to the comedy performers coming on, and there are some excellent and very physical comic performances from the due Boris and Goran (Robert Traynor and Nigel Garton) who are trying to steal Chitty for Vulgaria. Sean Blower also turns in a good performance as Baron Bomburst, and Jane Gurnett as the Baroness creates a real comic grotesque which is very funny.

The show is slick and fast, but emotionally is a little sterile, as characters rarely seem to feel anything or really interact with one another. However it is technically impressive, has a good story, some great characters (with wonderful names) and some good performances and is ideal for the family audience, as well as for adults with fond memories of the film.

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" runs until 10th June 2006 and then tours to Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinbugh, Bristol and Southampton, where the tour ends on 15th September, 2007.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production, with a slightly different cast, at the Sunderland Empire

Reviewer: David Chadderton