Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is flying high and this show will certainly appeal to all the family as it has it all; great sets, first class cast, hit songs and the real star, Chitty herself.
For once when the show is billed as “direct from the West End” it is true, as Sunderland is the first stop on the National tour from the London Palladium, where it broke box office records. There have been a few small changes to the London version to accommodate the tour, most notably the slow start has been removed so the story speeds along at a more child-friendly pace.
The secret of this stage version is that it remains true to the film, taking us on a familiar journey that allows grandparents to remember taking their children to see the film; and those children are now mums and dads taking their children to the theatre, who can settle back and witness stagecraft at its magical best. Around me there were even some adults becoming emotional as the car flew, so great is the effect.
Caractacus Potts is played by the Olivier Award winning musical star Tim Flavin, who brings warmth and charm to the role as he tries to keep his children (Jeremy and Jemima) happy while working on a series of mad inventions, in the hope of making a fortune. Having seen the London production a couple of times I can honestly sat that, in my opinion, Flavin is a better Potts than either Michael Ball or Jason Donavan.
Jeremy and Jemima (played by sets of local children) talk Potts into buying an old derelict racing car, which whisks them off on exciting adventures. Along the way we have a case of mistaken identity as Potts’ father (also called Caratacus Potts) is captured and taken to Vulgaria where children are banned, giving the evil Childcatcher, (Robin Askwith from the Confessions films) the chance to capture Jemima and Jeremy. There is also the love Potts has for his children and his growing relationship with Truly Scrumptious, a lady they meet on their adventures, to move the story along and provide us with a happy ending.
This production is every bit as good as, and in places better than, the London version; and unlike the current stage version of Mary Poppins the show confidently delivers a familiar story (sticking as close to the film as the stage will allow) with well-loved songs and gives the audience that all too rare commodity - pure family entertainment.
- John Dixon (reviewed at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland)