I confess, like *99.9% of the population, I am more familiar with the 1964 film than the original Mary Poppins series of books. So while professing myself as a Mary Poppins expert, I was still pleasantly surprised and sufficiently diverted by the stage musical. The production is a delightful blend of the songs we all know and love, along with some of the more quirky elements of the books. And as with any good stage adaption there's also a unique edge of it's very own.
It was a lovely night at the Capitol Theatre, the crowd was noticeably more diverse than usual as everybody seemed to have brought a child or grandparent with them. I was sitting in between an elderly couple and a 90 year old gentleman accompanied by his twenty-something granddaughter. There was an entire row of children behind me. It was a chatty crowd, but well behaved during the performance.
Obviously they could never recreate the film onstage - nothing could ever be the same as the animation and special effects from what was truly a groundbreaking film (the technology was far ahead of it's time). But they have found other ways to make it exciting. There's some neat little bits in there that I'd *love* to spoil for everybody, but that would just be unfair. The vocals are strong. The new dance numbers and songs fit in seamlessly, and the adapted story flows nicely.
Verity Hunt-Ballard, in the title role, is suitably cocky and strict, yet endearing. The children are sweet and naughty, and Mr Banks was a strong, brusque character. Matt Lee was very impressive as Bert - I started off doubtful (major Dick van Dyke fan here!) but by the end was a fan of him too. He is clearly a passionate performer, and much more than just a dancer (you may remember him as the judge on the Australian version of "So You Think You Can Dance"). The biggest disappointment to me was Marina Prior in the role of Mrs Banks. For one thing, I don't like what they've done with the character - I can see what they are trying to achieve, but it's a role with much less impact than the film version. Here it's hard to see why her children are so rotten and her husband so boorish, and hard to blame anybody but her. In the film, Mrs Banks and Mr Banks are both likeable characters, but selfishly focused on their own endeavours, and the children are consequently neglected. In the stage show, Mrs Banks appears to do nothing but float around the house looking pathetic and feeling helpless. There's an attempt at a backstory about her past as an actress and how she is trying to live up to Mr Banks standards, but it really falls flat. Marina Prior plays it a bit silly, and it's hard to tell whether it's the fault of the actor or the directors.
It's important that you go along with an open mind. Some of my favourite bits from the film were missing, but there were other neat bits added in. Overall, it's a great show and well worth a look.
Suitable for all ages!
Pros: Lots of fun, and plenty of opportunities to clap along and get into it. A few "wow" moments where really cool special effects happen. They do a great job of the big dance numbers - I was waiting eagerly for "Step in Time" and they did not disappoint! They also sang again during the curtain call, which to me is extremely important. Give the audience a little something extra! :-)
Cons: The hideous, hideous accents. Most of the cast members need to open their mouths wider. They're so afraid of letting the Ocker accent come through that they're doing these tight, overemphasised British accents which don't sound authentic. While Verity is great in the role of Mary, she is the worst culprit for putting on a stupid voice instead of doing a proper accent. Hopefully they get better at this over time.
What: Mary Poppins
Where: Capital Theatre, Haymarket
Best seats: Don't go too far forward, this production really benefits from the full picture rather than the close-ups. I'd aim to be at least halfway back in the stalls.
*Statistics represented on this blog are entirely fictional