Seldom does a touring production fulfil the scale and spectacle of a night out in the West End. Thankfully, the stage adaptation of Bond writer Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang soars with all the thrill and excitement of the theatre whilst capturing the Technicolor beauty of a rainy afternoon indoors with the original film.
After buying and restoring an old racing car, madcap inventor Caractacus Potts and his children, Jeremy and Jemima, embark on a daring mission to rescue their father and grandfather from the clutches of the villainous Vulgarians. Along the way, Potts meets and swoons over sweet factory heiress Truly Scrumptious and falls foul of the terrifying Child Catcher.
Our principal actors are excellent, without exception. Darren Bennett’s Caractacus Potts captures the role perfectly without resorting to unbridled zaniness whilst Katie Ray’s pitch perfect voice as Truly Scrumptious consistently betters the familiar recording. Local girl, Barbrara Rafferty’s Baroness Bomburst is hilarious fodder to her Baron, Edward Peel. Rafferty’s truly vunderful accent and impressive singing ability are a surprising treat; to quote her nod to the Glasgow audience, she really “gied it laldi”.
The car’s the star. Aided by the much loved and infectious title song, the illusion of the vehicle soaring out of act one is one of the most impressive spectacles in touring theatre. With slick lighting and staging, a stationary car moves. With slick technology, it flies. This is the sophisticated theatrical magic which makes a night out extraordinary.
The production company have created a shiny toy to capture the eye of its young audience. Its sets drip bright vivid colour and smoke and mirrors reflect clever lighting designs. Grand windmills and shimmering cakes descend from the rafters as intricate costumes twirl Golden Era Broadway choreography. When paying £27 for a theatre ticket, you expect to see your money on the stage. Every penny of it is there and they really do shine.
During the performance, I counted no less than forty actors and eight dogs. If they ran two touring companies of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang simultaneously, they could clear the employment section of The Stage. The huge ensemble is a talented mix of local children, contortionists and gymnasts; well regimented, their timing and blocking is excellent and not once does the stage feel overcrowded.
The real pleasure of the show is Vulgarian. Cold War fears of everything beyond the Berlin Wall have undoubtedly influenced the comic villainy of Baron and Baroness Bomhurst. Dean Maynard’s The Child Catcher is infinitely more terrifying and spider like on stage than he is in the original yet it remains a mystery why he is only present for a few minutes. His evil is too real, it would seem.
The theatre world is quick to judge stage adaptations of films. With material this enjoyable, why complain?