There’s more than just a spoonful of sugar in the UK Tour of Mary Poppins – it delivers a sweet treat for both kids and adults alike. One of the most well loved Disney films, Mary Poppins was brought to the stage by Cameron Mackintosh back in 2004 and has some big names behind it – Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows (who wrote the book), plus musical veterans George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (who created new songs and lyrics). 12 years on since making its West End debut the show is playing at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, where it runs until 5th March.
The story is familiar to most…set in Victorian London, Mr and Mrs Banks are looking for yet another Nanny for their unruly children, Jane and Michael, when a mysterious woman appears from nowhere called Mary Poppins. With her spellbinding ways she whips the kids into shape and transforms the lives of the family.
One of the talented Strallen sisters, and niece of Bonnie Langford, Zizi takes on the title role in this production and really does put her stamp on it (which is no mean feat considering we all adored Julie Andrews version of the Practically Perfect Nanny). Strallen’s Mary Poppins has a hint of Willy Wonka’s eccentricity and a real mischievous streak, which delights the audience with every glint in her eye.
Thankfully, Australian Matt Lee doesn’t do a ‘Dick Van Dyke’ with his cockney accent as chimney sweep Bert. If you didn’t know Lee was from Oz you would think he was a native Londoner as he chirps out the rhyming slag with ease. He puts on a tap-tastic display with the other sweepers in the musical number Step in Time and shows he has nerves as steel when he literally dances on the ceiling!
Bright stars of the future, Lucy Simmonds (10) and Lewis Fernee (9) superbly play Jane and Michael Banks. You can’t help but marvel at the pair’s professionalism as the youngsters are onstage the majority of the show and like veterans, never falter once in their performance.
The majority of the laughs go to Wendy Ferguson who is genius as the cook/maid of the house, Mrs Brill. Bob Crowley’s set is also a star in its own right, depicting Victorian London through illustrated backdrops of iconic landmarks such as St Paul Cathedral. The Banks house is a feast for the eyes as it opens up like a full size dolls house to reveal different parts of the living areas, revolving to show the back and shrinking so you can take a look at the rooftops.
Jam-packed full of special effects from moving furniture, toys coming to life and a bag which seems to have everything but the kitchen sink come out of it – this is a truly magical show from start to finish.
Just one thing to bear in mind if you are taking younger children is that the production is quite long with a running time of around 2 hours 20 minutes. Although there was some bum shuffling towards the end, it proves more than worth it, as Mary Poppins serves up one of the most jaw-dropping finales I have ever seen. A Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious show!
Palace Theatre, Manchester
Until 5th March 2016