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Mary Poppins - Review (2006)

Mary Poppins (new cast, 2006)

Review by Jack Foley

A YEAR after Mary Poppins first captivated West End audiences at the Prince Edward Theatre she continues to fly high despite several changes in personnel.

Scarlett Strallen takes over from the critically-acclaimed magic of Laura Michelle Kelly, while Aden Gillett steps into the shoes of David Haig as George Banks. Gavin Lee remains in the pivotal role of chimney sweep Bert, although in the performance I saw, he was replaced by Howard Jones.

All are well-served by some lavish production values that include a memorable doll’s house set by Bob Crowley, some entertaining songs and a strong script by Jullian Fellowes, on whose book this particular version is based.

The plot, of course, is known to millions. The Banks are a family in crisis. George (Gillett), the father, is more concerned with success in business than being a caring father, no doubt haunted by the demons of his own tough upbringing as a child.

His wife, Winifred (Eliza Lumley), is as dutiful as society dictates but has trouble finding a suitable Nanny for her two boisterous children, Jane and Michael.

Enter Mary Poppins, as if by magic, to exercise some discipline, administer a spoonful of life medicine and bring a little happiness to all concerned.

Hence, the children learn to show their elders some respect while conforming to the rules put into place by Poppins, while George rediscovers his zest for business as well as some much-needed paternal instincts.

Co-directed by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne, this lavish West End spectacle effortlessly provides superior entertainment that the whole family can enjoy.

The musical numbers, especially, are delivered with gusto and boast some excellent choreography, fully doing justice to the memory of Disney’s classic cartoon.

Audiences should be singing along to the likes of Supercalifragilsticexpialidocious and Chim Chim Cher-ee, while marvelling at the expertly staged dancing – all of which should bring out the child in the most sceptical of adults.

And yet the show carries a strong emotional undertow, too, as exemplified by Gillett’s sensitive portrayal of George, a man so obviously scarred by his own harsh childhood. His performance is wonderfully understated so that viewers might not anticipate the pull it has on those tear ducts late on.

Strallen also deserves praise for stepping into the shoes vacated by Kelly so seamlessly, delivering a Mary Poppins who is both firm where necessary, yet immensely fun to be around.

She more than makes up for some of the shortcomings of the children, who play precocious very well, yet struggle with some of the cuter elements (depending on which young cast members you see).

The evening even boasts some show-stopping moments that are guaranteed to have the jaws hitting the floor – most notably when Bert walks upside down above the stage (pausing for a dance routine along the way), and when Mary Poppins takes flight over the audience.

Mary Poppins first began enthralling audiences in 1934, having emerged from the fertile imagination of Pamela Travers. Her story subsequently provided all the classic elements for a successful Disney movie, as well as imitations such as Nanny McPhee.

Thanks to the talents of Eyre and Bourne, however, she continues to provide a ‘practically perfect’ night out in the heart of London’s theatre-land. It remains one of the definite must-sees in town.

Mary Poppins – a musical based on the stories of PL Travers and the Walt Disney film.
Book: Julian Fellowes
Original Music and Lyrics: Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
New Songs and additional Music and Lyrics: George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
Director: Richard Eyre
Choreographer and Co- director: Mathew Bourne
Co-Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting: Howard Harrison
Sound: Andrew Bruce

Produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh.

Prince Edward Theatre: 30 Old Compton Street, London, W1V 6HS.
Evening Performances – Monday to Saturday: 7.30pm
Matinees Thursday & Saturday: 2.30pm
Box Office:0870 850 0393