Last night's performance (31 October 2002) of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, attended by the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, was called to a halt before the interval when the show's star - the £750,000 car of the title - crashed on stage.

During the nautical scene near the end of Act One, Chitty crashed into a battleship while transporting stars Michael Ball, Emma Williams and child leads Harry Smith and Carrie Fletcher. The curtains came down immediately but, because of the technical difficulties with resurrecting the flying machine, the rest of the show was called off.

Producer Michael Rose explained to BBC News Online: "During the ship chase, the ship is supposed to back off and disappear to the rear of the stage, and the car then reverses. But the ship did not take its rear position, the car went backwards, the ship was in the wrong position, and the two collided."

Disappointed theatregoers were offered complimentary drinks and an exchange of their tickets. Rose said the royal guests, who also included Princess Alexandra, would be returning to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang another time.

The mishap marks the second time that the Chitty car, believed to be the most expensive stage prop ever used, has stalled. The £6.2 million musical premiered to great fanfare - and an £8 million box office advance - on 16 April 2002, but the very next night, the car, suffering from an electrical fault, wouldn't start and the entire sell-out performance was abandoned. (See News, 18 Apr 2002)

The stage show is based on the famous 1968 children's film with Dick Van Dyke. It stars Michael Ball as the Van Dyke character, madcap inventor and widow Caractacus Potts, who restores an old car with the help of his two children and friend Truly Scumptious, but much to the chagrin of the evil Bombursts from Vulgaria. The cast also currently includes Anton Rodgers, Brian Blessed, Nichola McAuliffe, Paul O'Grady, Edward Petherbridge and Emma Williams.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is adapted by Jeremy Sams with original music by the Sherman brothers, directed by RSC artistic director Adrian Noble, choreographed by Gillian Lynne and designed by Anthony Ward, with lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Andrew Bruce, orchestrations and dance arrangements by Chris Walker, and musical direction and supervision by Robert Scott. The original children's book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was written by Ian Fleming.

- by Terri Paddock