Prince Edward Theatre
Upon hearing I'd be seeing Mary Poppins on stage I did a terrible thing, something which Cameron Mackintosh staunchly wants us not to do. I watched the film. I was desperate to recall memories of a street of flying nannies, cartoon dancing penguins and a tea party on the ceiling. The multi-million pound stage adaptation, a co-production between Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, includes none of these aspects, but it doesn't need to. This show stands alone as a musical; not an adaptation of a book or film, but as something created purely for stage.
Let's start with the best news. This show is beautifully cast, and - with the introduction of new characters - faithful to P.L Travers' books. Laura Michelle Kelly in the title role is a joy; a real English rose with the voice of an angel. As anticipation builds, her arrival on stage does not fail to disappoint. Kelly has got that teasing Poppins quality down to a tee, especially in her piece-de-resistance – the bag. Fear not, the film and book's most endearing quality remains – and goes beyond your expectations thanks to Jim Steinmeyer's creation.
Gavin Lee, as the odd-job man Bert, gives a genuine Cockney accent (finally!) and, like Kelly, is simply charming. The character of Mr Banks is expanded from the film - he is much more realistic - and David Haig plays him admirably, finally realising the value of family. The children, Jane and Michael, are played by ten different children – huge roles for anyone. Thankfully they're spectacularly talented! Jenny Galloway, as maid Mrs Brill, is warmly received with an array of one-liners, as is Rosemary Ashe as the evil nanny Miss Andrew.
The special effects pour out of this production, but never drown you – there's just enough to make you gasp in delight. A huge doll house design by Bob Crowley is an impressive feat of technology, even if the effect of the nursery soaring from the heavens is a little overused. The iconic Julie Andrews costumes are there, but gone is the campy Jolly Holiday countryside in favour of statues bursting to life. Surrealism is never far away – in another number toys disturbingly turn sinister.
The new songs, by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, fit effortlessly into the remaining score, though the orchestrations lose much of the traditional Disney sound. There are two numbers which stand above the rest – Practically Perfect, which has become almost the show's signature tune, and Anything Can Happen, a song sure to become a classic.
Each of the massively talented names in this production bring their trademark features to the show – Matthew Bourne's physical expressive dance, Stephen Mear's spellbounding tap-dancing (which has Bert dancing on the ceiling!), Disney's magic and Mackintosh's all-round eye for perfection. Surely this is a match made in heaven? Well, not always. For although each of these creators are at the top of their professions, they all seem to be working towards an entirely different show, as at times their styles are at odds with one another. I can't help but wonder what each one would have done with full reign on the show.