One of four new songs written by the Sherman Brothers for the 2002 stage adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is "Teamwork". It's not the most memorable song in the show, but it best sums up the unqualified success of this production by West Yorkshire Playhouse and Music & Lyrics, due for an extended national tour starting next year.
Rather than relying on star names or astonishing technological breakthroughs, the production's strength lies in the consistent quality and commitment director James Brining and choreographer Stephen Mear obtain from a large and talented ensemble of professionals and children. Brining also secures two superb performances from the children playing Jeremy and Jemima, natural, confident, disciplined, expressive – Henry Kent and Caitlin Surtees on press night, but no doubt the alternatives are excellent, too.
Simon Higlett's colourful costume designs elegantly reflect the chosen period for this production, 1919. The setting, despite the technical wizardry, has a certain attractive homeliness. The basic set is inside the Potts family's windmill, curving wooden walls on which all sorts of projections play, from a warship attacking Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the rolling English countryside. This is a pretty good production for wheeled transport, with Baron Bomburst's non-flying motor car, Truly's motor-cycle, assorted bikes and the Child Catcher's mobile cage sharing the spotlight with the central character which takes off in some style.
The show is billed as Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but is in fact Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes' film script, in an adaptation by Jeremy Sams generally true to the film, but with aspects of the plot simplified and the Vulgarian element increased. The two spies, Goran and Boris, even get their own song, "Act English", splendidly put over by the drolly ill-assorted Scott Paige and Sam Harrison, a sort of Vulgarian equivalent of the gangsters in Kiss Me Kate, but with silly disguises!
Jon Robyns (Caractacus Potts) and Amy Griffiths (Truly Scrumptious) are as likeable a pair of leads as you could wish for, he relaxed, never straining for effect, she, re-cast as a modern woman on a motor-bike, is sweetness itself. Don Gallagher's teddy-cuddling Baron and Tamsin Carroll, his child-hating wife desperately trying to grab his attention with a seductive samba, are a delight. There is good work, too, from Andy Hockley's nimble ancient (Grandpa Potts), still re-living Indian days, and Ewen Cummins' stalwart double of Coggins and the Toymaker. Stephen Matthews' Childcatcher is genuinely menacing, aided by eerie projections reminiscent of expressionist German cinema.
Andrew Hilton's alert and lively 12-piece orchestra contributes to any number of spot-on set-piece routines, the best of them an exhilarating take on "Me Ol' Bamboo", restored to its original Morris Dance setting.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (including interval)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 30 January after which it embarks on a UK tour.