The theatrical production of Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at The Marlowe Theatre this week as part of the musical’s debut UK and Ireland tour. Based on Mary Norton’s books and the 1970s classic film of the same name, the musical is a brand new stage show within the Disney portfolio, joining Mary Poppins, Aladdin, The Lion King and more. Centering on the iconic character Miss Eglantine Price, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a story of old fashioned magic set against the distressing backdrop of the Blitz. Apprentice witch Eglantine wants to do something to aid the war effort and she turns to magic as a source of inspiration. The movie has been turned into a two-act stage show featuring some brand new music by Neil Bartram, complimenting the original Sherman Brothers songs.
Last week I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to The Marlowe Theatre’s press night for the new production. Bedknobs and Broomsticks debuted at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle in mid-August before heading straight to The Marlowe Theatre this week, so we were one of the first cities to experience ‘The Magic Musical’ on stage. Despite being a big Disney fan, I actually only saw the movie for the first time on Monday night and I’m glad I finally did as I had been missing out. Mary Poppins is one of my favourite Disney films of all time and Bedknobs and Broomsticks has so many nods to the practically perfect 1960s movie with its distinct Sherman sound, the casting of David Tomlinson in the role of Emelius Browne and the blend of live-action and animated sequences. I couldn’t wait to see how the creative team behind Bedknobs and Broomsticks would tackle the flying sequences and magic tricks through the art of live theatre, something Disney already has experience with through Aladdin and Mary Poppins.
Initially set in London during wartime, the three Rawlins children sadly lose their parents at the start of the production and have to be evacuated to the countryside. They are sent to the fictional Dorset village of Pepperinge Eye and assigned to the intriguing character Miss Eglantine Price (played by Dianne Pilkington). Despite originally being more interested in a parcel that arrived from London than the three children, the Rawlins siblings quickly learn that Miss Eglantine is no ordinary lady and they are in for an adventure indeed. They spot her attempting to fly on a broomstick one night and end up striking a bargain, with the children receiving treats in exchange for their silence about Miss Price’s study of magic. Miss Price is devastated when the college of witchcraft that she is undertaking postal lessons through has to close early, as she was hoping to use the final spell towards the war effort.
With the Rawlins children in tow, she sets off to London to find the college professor and collect the last spell ‘Substitutiary Locomotion’. Travelling by bed with the help of a bedknob, the party fly to London and stumble across ‘The Great’ Emelius Browne (Charles Brunton). All is not what it seems and the group of five quickly learn that if they are going to realise Miss Price’s dream of helping the allied armed forces, they need to work together and find that last spell. Over the course of the production, the group experience many exciting adventures and run into all sorts of characters from London all the way to the Isle of Nopeepo. The stage version however has a different ending to the film, which brings a whole new sense of meaning to the story. To understand the full impact of this change, I think you should hear it for the first time in the theatre so I’ve kept this review spoiler free!
The main characters visited multiple locations in the production, covering Miss Price’s village of Pepperinge Eye, central London and the Isle of Nopeepo. The sets for Portobello Road Market, London and the underwater Beautiful Briny Ballroom were my favourites. The art department had created many vibrant market carts for the ensemble to carry, which when arranged in unison captured the essence of a bustling London market. The lighting used for the Beautiful Briny Ballroom also had a romantic glow, putting the spotlight on the blossoming relationship between Eglantine and Emelius as they waltzed across the floor. The ballroom sign at the top of the stage framed them perfectly, drawing the audience in as they sang the big number ‘The Beautiful Briny’.
Rather than marvel at the Sherman Brother’s pieces that have been popular with audiences for years, I wanted to focus on a couple of the new pieces penned by Neil Bartram. One of the first songs is ‘Miss Price, I believe’ and each of the Rawlins children share what they think their new guardian will be like via song, as they wait to be collected from the Pepperinge Eye Museum. One of the children wonders if she will be a witch, which brings some humor to the production early on. I thought this was a great addition to the show, as you get to learn a bit more about each of the children’s personalities.
Another insertion to act one is Charlie Rawlins’ song ‘Negotiality’ (performed by Conor O’Hara). It is a fun and playful tribute to making a bargain. Charlie is a cheeky character and this song fits him perfectly, especially when he attempts to blackmail Miss Price.
Special effects and puppeteering
Finally, the special effects and ‘magic’ involved in the production were phenomenal. The last time I was this impressed by the staging was when I saw the magic carpet ‘soaring’ through the sky in the West End for Aladdin. The stage backdrop is black for the majority of the performance so that the creative team can make both Miss Price and the bed fly. They had even gone so far as to make the rails of the bed change colours when flying, just as they do in the film.
Considering the magic tricks, when spells were carried out the ensemble moved handheld lights around the stage to create a starry atmosphere. The transformation of both Charlie and Emelius into rabbits was fantastic to watch, as both performers gradually retreated their bodies to the floor so that they could be ‘morphed’ into the rabbit puppets. The puppets were works of art and so much fun to watch travel across the stage.
Future performances at The Marlowe Theatre
I had a truly enchanting evening at The Marlowe Theatre watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks*. Michael Harrison and Disney have really outdone themselves. Seeing the special effects live on stage has certainly got me excited for the future of theatre and my next Disney theatrical production which will be Frozen in September. There is still some availability for performances at the Marlowe this weekend, with matinee and evening showings on both Saturday and Sunday. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the bank holiday weekend, seeing ‘The Magical Musical’ on stage at the marvellous Marlowe Theatre.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for Bedknobs and Broomsticks were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.