Review by David Munro
IT IS very difficult when sitting down to review Mary
Poppins dispassionately not to burst into 'that song'.
Super this show certainly is, it is a long time (well at least
since The Producers
anyway) that I have left the theatre at the end of a musical with
such a glow of enthusiasm and appreciation for what I had just
To my mind, Cameron Mackintosh and his production team do not
put a foot wrong. Of course, they had Julian Fellowes’ excellent
book to work from and P.L. Travers’ original inspiration.
but they really do a first rate job on them.
I have never read the Mary Poppins books and my sole knowledge
of the aerial nanny and her charges is based on Mr Disney’s
saccharine movie musical.
I therefore entered the Prince Edward with very
mixed feelings. I knew Stiles and Drewe had reworked some of the
Sherman Brothers original score and added a few new songs of their
This reassured me that the evening could not be all bad, as
Stiles and Drewe are, to my way of thinking, the best thing to
have hit the British musical since the 1950’s.
Mathew Bourne, I saw, had co-directed with Richard Eyre as well
as doing the choreography - another plus - so I took my seat with
slightly more expectation than I had left home with.
The moment the curtain rose on Gavin Lee and the chorus as romanticised
chimney sweeps, the groan in my throat turned into a gurgle of
delight when they attacked the opening number with the precision
and vigour we are at last beginning to expect from the British
From then on in, it only got better. The Banks parents, personified
by David Haig and Linzi Hateley, seemed almost believable, although
I felt they were in all probability close relatives of the Darling
Family who were also having their own servant and family problems
round the corner.
One empathised with the children’s Nanny problems and Laura
Michelle Kelly’s Mary Poppins dropping in to take over was
no let down, quite the reverse.
Miss Kelly has clearly learnt from her stint as Eliza that character
adds to a role’s charm and as Mary Poppins she was firing
on all cylinders as the no-nonsense , acerbic yet magical Nanny
longed for by the Banks children.
My only quibble (yes there has to be one !) was that the children
I saw were on many occasions inaudible. Whether this was due to
bad sound production, or the acoustics of the theatre, I am not
in a position to say but a lot of their lines and lyrics were
lost on me.
For the rest of the time, I had no problem with the audibility
of the rest of the cast which I appreciated since Julian Fellowes’
book is a cut above the average libretto as he develops his plot
concisely, logically and with a firm grasp on the four unities.
His 'book', which is based on several of P.L. Travers' originals,
is darker and less whimsical than the film, although still in
keeping with lightness required of a musical .
The fear of the rather Pooterish Mr. Banks of losing his job
was deftly sketched and although the resolution had an E. Nesbitt
flavour, it suited the tone he had set for the whole piece.
This tone was faithfully preserved in Richard Eyre’s direction
which was fast paced and full of delightful bits of business highlighting
the plot, such as Mary Poppins return down the banister to rescue
the family from Rosemary Ashe’s dreadful (in the plot sense)
Miss Ashe is, as always, a delight and I would have liked to
have seen the Killer Soprano given a better chance with the killer
Gavin Lee obliterates all memory
(thankfully) of Dick van Dyke and makes Bert his own part. His
scenes with Mary Poppins and the slight hint of wistful longing
he brought to them was one of the many delights of the evening.
He sings and dances with precision and grace and heralds the
arrival of a very talented leading man although I doubt whether
we will have the opportunity to see him in another part for some
Linzi Hateley, as Mrs Banks, proved yet again that she is one
of the most consistently reliable and delightful performers on
the English stage and she is superbly assisted in this by David
Haig’s understated yet telling performance as her exasperating
Mr Haig is a dark horse. Last seen giving a superlative performance
as 'Uncle' in Journeys
End, he has done a complete volte face and produced a singing
voice and a comic performance which must endear him as much to
the groundlings as it did to me.
I was also delighted to see Julia Sutton once more on the West
End stage in the small but telling part of the Bird Woman.
Without wishing to appear unchivalrous, I have fond memories
of her in the musicals of the Sixties and thereafter and it is
wonderful to realise that the years between have not aged nor
dimmed her charm, ability nor looks.
Mathew Bourne proves yet again what a sense of the theatre he
has and how skilfully he is able to instil this into his choreography.
As I have already indicated, he is credited with co-direction
and one can recognise in several of the set pieces and scene transitions,
his particular staging ability as exemplified by his ballet masterpieces.
Stiles and Drewe confirmed my view of their abilities with their
new numbers and re-writes which I look forward to enjoying with
greater attention when the cast CD arrives.
This is a highly professional show with charm and delicate nuances
which place it for me in the pantheon of 'The Great Musicals'.
I only hope, to quote the ineffable Larry Hart, it is not 'Too
good for the average man'.
I should think not as it has everything going for it to delight
both adults and children but nowadays one never knows.
Anyway, I shall always be grateful to Mary Poppins for the spoonful
of sugar she gave me which took away the taste of some of the
other untalented and tuneless musicals which have been spawned
over the last few years. May she continue to do so for others
for many years yet to come.
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.
New Songs and additional Music and Lyrics: George Stiles &
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
CAST: Laura Michelle Kelly; Gavin Lee; David Haig; Linzi
Hateley; Rosemary Ashe; Jenny Galloway; Julia Sutton; Nicola Bowman;
Carrie Fletcher; Peggy Lee Friar; Charlotte Spencer; Faye Spittlehouse;
Perry Millward; Jack Montgomery; Harry Stott; Ben Watton; Louisa
Shaw; Tim Morgan; Claire Machin; Ian Burford; Gerard Carey; Kevin
Williams; Stuart Neal; Alan Vicary; Nathan Taylor; Melanie La
Barrie; Savannah Stevenson; Poppy Tierney; Terel Nugent.
WITH: Jye Frasca; Lewis Greenslade; Howard Jones; Sarah Keeton;
Mathew Malthouse; Stephen McGlynn; Tamara McKoy Patterson; Zak
Nemorin; Agnes Vandrepote; Sarah Bayliss; Ashley Day; Philip Michael
Thomas; Pippa Raine; Emma Woods; Andrew Wright.
Prince Edward Theatre: 30 Old Compton Street, London,
Evening Performances - Monday to Saturday: 7.30pm
Matinees Thursday & Saturday: 2.30pm
Box Office:0870 850 0393 (booking to April 1, 2006); Order