Bedknobs and Broomsticks is on at the Palace Theatre this week. What's it like?
The original Bedknobs and Broomsticks, made back in the early 70s by Disney and featuring a young (pre murder writing) Angela Lansbury, a sprightly Bruce Forsyth and a cast of recycled Jungle Book animated characters – well, it’s remembered rather fondly nowadays isn’t it?!
My wife absolutely loves it. And if I’m being honest, I have quite a soft spot for it too – mostly because I enjoy the animated bits, Lansbury is fantastic in everything she’s ever been in and it has suits of armour fighting Nazis at the end.
Even now as an adult, those final scenes of the enchanted armour marching against the machine guns, it invokes a serious sense of wonder and magic that’s missing from most movies nowadays – despite the obvious technical limitations to it all.
It was therefore that I was sat at the Palace Theatre last night with some trepidation of the end of Disney’s musical stage adaptation of the film – wondering just how they would re-create that sense of scale and peril without using blue screens or CGI.
Well, any fears were almost immediately dissolved as the production began and we were treated to a technical marvel, one which is even more impressive considering that this is a touring show that needs to fit and adapt to a massive range of theatres and set ups throughout the UK.
There is, of course, the fact that they get a bed to actually fly – and it flies bloody high up too, as well as some truly wonderful puppetry involved, especially when the intrepid heroes descend into the depths of the ocean and then wash up on the shores of ‘Nopeepo’ – an island dominated entirely by animals.
It’s this technical wizardry where Bedknobs and Broomsticks really shines, with characters being turned into rabbits in front of your very eyes, talking lion kings, battling swords and armour and dancing fish – it’s all pulled off with panache and a sly sense of humour that is a pure delight.
The human cast are excellent too, with Miss Price being portrayed by the fantastic Dianne Pilkington, who manages to hold her own against the enigmatic Lansbury, and even make the role her own.
She’s helped considerably by some elaborately pronominal costumes that truly bring the character to life – a magnificent achievement by designer Gabriella Slade, who also impresses considerably with the London Pearly-esque traders during the show-stopping ‘Portobello Road’ number.
Charles Brunton as Emelius Browne is also very impressive, with a physicality and facial dexterity that perfectly match the juxtaposition of this mad-cap trickster character with subtle undertones of sadness. The kids too – were excellent throughout, absolute professionals, even though they must have been proper nervous.
The original songs from the movie are in this new production, written and composed all those years ago by the Sherman Brothers, plus additional material by Neil Bartram.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks will certainly delight and entertain any children who go to watch it, although I did feel that there was a distinct lack of the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ adult jokes that other musicals do so well – a product (I suspect) of the Disney stamp of approval on the entire thing.
It’s slick, technically outstanding and it cleverly fills in many of the film’s gaping plot holes, whilst introducing a rather surprising twist at the end, which I won’t ruin for you, but completely changes the entire narrative and opens things up to a more cynical 21st Century audience.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is on at The Palace Theatre until Sunday 24th October, and will also be returning to Salford to The Lowry in March 2022. Tickets for both can be purchased below…