Jason Manford takes the starring role in Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, arguably the ultimate children’s tale of imagination, adventure and courage. But does this new, big budget performance seem more like panto and less like the tale we remember so fondly?
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, made famous by Roald Dahl’s screenplay, is a widely-known classic. Inventor Caractacus Potts delights his children when he buys their favourite toy to play with – an abandoned car that, once, won the Grand Prix in 1910.
In a bid to delight them further and their new friend Truly Scrumptious, he completely revamps the car turning it into a state of the art, fully-functioning vehicle which catches the attention of the evil Baron of Vulgaria.
In a frenzy that blurs the lines between imagination and reality, we follow the Potts family on their journey to Vulgaria, where all children are banned, to fight the Baron and Baroness Bomburst.
Obviously, Manford’s name alongside other recognisable faces – like comedian Phill Jupitus (Baron Bomburst/Lord Scrumptious) and actress Claire Sweeney (Baroness Bomburst/ Miss Phillips) – have been utilised heavily in the promotion of the touring production.
In terms of fairing to the original cast, though, does Jason Manford’s lethargic portrayal of the traditionally energetic, adult role model Caractacus Potts compare to Dick Van Dyke? Disappointingly, probably not.
Although, not the most dynamic delivery of the role, Manford does offer a more laid back, less endearing alternative to the typically charming father figure made famous by Dyke in the 1968 movie. He performs the role fairly well.
His performance is, however, far outshined by his professional acting counter part, Charlotte Wakefield (who plays Truly Scrumptious) who is like a vision on stage – particularly during that doll number.
Phill Jupitis did surprisingly well in the join role of child-hating villain Baron Bomburst and Lord Scrumptious, although his accent did waver quite a lot between “Vulgarian” (an accent between French and Dutch, I assume) and his native cockney tongue. He achieved a good balance between comedy and seriousness.
One of the most appealing aspects of the show, for families at least, is the inclusion of some young faces. Elliot Morris (Jeremy Potts) and Darcy Snares (Jemima Potts), the two children featured during the Press evening are clearly talented.
Although, some of their quickly spoken lines were difficult to understand, they rose to the challenge of performing to a full house and did so magnificently.
Disappointingly, the infamous Child Catcher did not feature as much in the stage production as I expected. For a staple in the original movie, he was featured very little on stage despite the clear attention to detail given to his terrifying costume and make-up.
One thing that simply can’t go unmentioned is the spectacular visual element of the production, which takes place inside a stage-sized windmill where the Potts family live.
Extremely vivid and responsive visuals are projected onto the interior and exterior of the ‘windmill’ – which we are predominantly inside during the production – making the audience feel like they are being transported to the various locations of the story.
The high standard of cinematography also means that when the car – which famously flies – does take flight, it actually looks quite realistic. There is a risk that using simulator-like technology will do an unconvincing job; the projections could have been used more as a symbol for the movement of the car rather than actually achieving an authentic look. Gladly, this was not a problem in this production. It was a mighty asset to the show.
All in all, with glorious dance numbers, spell-binding costumes and a star-studded cast, this was a solid and well-received performance that actually achieved a standing ovation.