Southern Light Opera presents Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Festival Theatre

Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman

Adapted by Jeremy Sams

Staged and Directed by Quintin Young

Musical Direction by Tommie Travers

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fresh from the success of their 125th anniversary, Southern Light Opera go from the rolling hills of Austria and take flight with the Sherman Brother’s much-loved tale of a rather fantabulous car: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

With barely a bob to his name, Caractacus Potts places everything he has into his two children, Jemima and Jeremy, who become his entire world following the death of their mother. But when the one thing that makes them happy above all else (besides their father) is a broken-down, rusted heap of scrap, a motorcar, is threathened, Caractacus searches for a way to purchase the car. Unbeknownst to them has also been eyed up by the petulant and greedy Baron of Vulgaria. With the aid of the local sweet-manufacturer daughter, Truly Scrumptious, the four set out on a cross-channel journey to save Caractacus’ father after he is mistaken for the accident-prone inventor and captured by the Baron’s spies.

There’s a fifth star on stage everyone is here to see – the titular vehicle, and SLO do not disappoint with a full-scale, new generation of the stage car. We won’t spoil the surprises for those not familiar with the production’s key draw, but when we say the production soars and sails – we mean it. In no small part thanks to Bowden Theatre Works and Burnt Toast SFX, but the illusions would never work without James Gow’s stellar lighting design to ensure the magic remains at the same quality level as any professional production.

As the striving inventor Caractacus, Rory Maclean has a lot to carry for the show, doing a sterling job of it all – keeping up with the dance routines and various musical numbers, but excels must when able to breathe and soak in the atmosphere – Hushabye Mountain a key example. When the momentum starts to build too heavily, MacLean does fall slightly behind, but given the weight of the role, it’s still an admirable performance. Additionally, they make a budding double-act with Keith Kilgore’s Grandpa Potts, who turns in a truly memorable and popping rendition of Posh!

Returning to the stage as Jemima Potts and carrying the same passion for performance as they have done in recent years as Brigitta in Sound of Music, and Oliver in Forth Children’s Theatre’s Oliver!, Martha Broderick is a charming Jemima – and a great co-star to Oliver Thomson’s performance as the more impulsive Jeremy.

Through the lengthy first act, there are moments where a line flubs or the pacing don’t quite keep up the momentum of the score or the storytelling, but the flow never deviates too heavily from the grand scheme of things. Despite the jolly nature, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a large and intensive show vocally and physically, something to remind audiences about how well the entire ensemble does at carrying the show.

The legacy of the Sherman Brother’s music has won them awards, acclaim, and an everlasting place in the hearts of generations. From Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book to the Potts families’ adventures with Chitty, their lyricism and family-oriented scores are full of whimsy and eccentricities like few others. And capturing their rhythm and pacing to the letter is the always fantastically orchestrated Southern Light orchestra – led by the firm and reliable hand of Tommie Traver’s conduction and musical direction.

Among the repertoire are some incredibly addictive tunes and firm favourites such as Hushabye Mountain, Posh!, Chu-Chi Face and The Roses of Success, so it’s difficult not to leave this evening with a glow in cockles of the heart. But Doll on a Music Box goes beyond this evening, even further than the titular and closing rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In truth, the original script leaves Truly Scrumptious with less than a stellar amount of development through the show, but Tanya Williamson still imparts a heart into the character, and their vocal clarity and sharp, mannequin movements for Doll on a Music Box will stay with the audience long after the tune fades from their ears.

Bumbling, boisterous and bubbling with fun, Gary Gray’s Baron Bomburst was always going to be oodles of fun for the crowds – but the manner they work with Cathy Geddie (returning to SLO after their spectacular run as Maria in Sound of Music last year) is terrific. Geddie’s more aggressive, flirtatious, and vivacious attitude offsets Gray’s more petulant antagonist in the country where children are banned, and toys are made exclusively for the Baron by Scott Walker’s Toymaker. Theirs is the stand-out ensemble number of the night, with the Baroness’ The Bombie Samba, which comes with a sensual explosion of crimson and black-clad choreography from Louise Williamson that demonstrates the versatility of the dance troupe – the other being a rather spiffing rendition of the old favourite Me Ol’ Bamboo.

But we all know who the real villain of this is: the ballet-footed menace which lures greedy and hungry children away, never to be seen again – The Childcatcher. And though the threat of the nightmare-inducing villain may fall short in the finale, the staging of his downfall all too quick, Charles Leeson-Payne’s introduction of the infamous spider-legged villain is nothing short of a tremendously wicked display of wonderment, Young once more utilising the Festival Theatre boxes to tremendous effect.

Villains of a lesser calibre, in terms of their intimidation, but excelling as comedic foils and audience favourites, long-time Southern Light performer Peter Tomassi is joined by Padraic Hamrogue as Goran and Boris, Vulgarian spies, shining humour throughout the performance. The wordplay and physicality they demonstrate are often hilarious and always enjoyable. From Hamrogue’s more ‘straight-man’ frustrations to Tomassi’s trademark smile and hokey tomfoolery, the jolly nature of it all emanates clearly from the pair’s performances, a clear representation of the jovial nature of the company and the communal and safe environment to give yourself over to the character. Their short skits and digs at English haughtiness are always welcomed, bringing over a needed bounce of energy following more sedate and sombre musical numbers.

A truly scrumptious, soaring piece of musical theatre which channels the frivolity and undiluted enjoyment of any professional touring production of the show – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang does Southern Light Opera proud in its 126th year of performance. Edinburgh’s oldest amateur dramatics society proves itself again of standing toe-to-toe with some of the big professional production and makes the Festival Theatre a warming and sincere place to be in lew of their usual haunt at the King’s Theatre.

Soaring Piece of Musical Theatre

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs at the Festival Theatre until May 20th. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 19.30pm. Friday at 20.00pm. With a matinee on Saturday at 14.30pm.
Running time – two hours and thirty minutes with one interval. Suitable for ages 4+
Tickets begin from £17.00 and may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan


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