Mary Poppins (Bristol Hippodrome and tour)
Zizi Strallen leads the cast of this 'full-scale re-think and re-animation' of the Disney classic
Ten years after the West End premiere of this unlikely collaboration between producers Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, writer Julian Fellowes, additional songsmiths George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and director Richard Eyre, the uptight nanny flies again at the launch of a second major national tour in the rackety old barn of the Bristol Hippodrome.
Fellowes, who wrote the book shortly after winning his Oscar for Gosford Park, makes the turn-off-your-phone announcements while Matthew Bourne (now co-directing with Eyre) has returned to overhaul his tremendous choreography (with Stephen Mear), and Zizi Strallen brings something absolutely new and scary to the title role, a far cry from Laura Michelle Kelly's more ingratiating, winning turn ten years ago.
Strallen's Poppins is a stern, unflinching agent of change, who transforms the dynamic of the Banks family relationship, assisted by the accidental upturn in Mr Banks's fortunes in the city. She takes her cue from one of the several Stiles and Drewe numbers, "Precision and Order."
And her final brolly-assisted ascent through the auditorium right up to the gods is an astonishing feat of nerve and steely, other-worldly bravado that characterises her presence and gestural thriftiness and elegance throughout.
This Poppins is also now a sort of self-confident Cinderella to Matt Lee's likeable Aussie "Buttons" Bert, the sweep and street cleaner who does the amazing upside down dance round the proscenium arch.
After Bristol, the show will be in Dublin for Christmas, then playing big venues in Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Southampton, Norwich, Plymouth and Newcastle right through to the end of next October.
That's a big tour, and audiences will rejoice in familiar numbers like "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Feed the Birds" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" by the Sherman brothers but perhaps now notice more (I certainly do) the new items by Stiles and Drewe, notably the show-stopping "Brimstone and Treacle" for the granny from hell (outrageously well done, wicked queen style, by Penelope Woodman) and the melodically insinuating "Anything Can Happen."
The first "anything" to happen is the colourful explosion in the park, which starts with a silver statue coming to life and ends with Queen Victoria in full cry and floral splendour on a "Jolly Holiday"; Bob Crowley's design, lit by Natasha Katz, has been superbly maintained.
For this is not just a mere touring version of the original show but a full-scale re-think and re-animation. The two Banks children are very good, so are their parents, Milo Twomey as George and Rebecca Lock in appropriately overblown Penelope Wilton mode as Winifred.
The staging makes ingenious use of silhouette throughout, the action switching between colourful frenzy and stark cut-out with no grinding of gears. And the second act literally takes off with "Let's Go Fly a Kite" before the rooftop hoe-down for sweeps twirling their brushes though not, this time round, bashing their dustbin lids a la Stomp. This really is a treat of a show to give family entertainment a much better name than usual.
Mary Poppins runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until 28 November before continuing on tour. For more information, click here.