Theatre Review: Mary Poppins at Wales Millennium Centre

This show was in the words of Bert the chimney sweep “a bit of magic”. I went along with my mother, sisters and MWF to see this on Wednesday evening for my little sister’s birthday the upshot being that MWF is a massive fan of the movie version. 

When I went to see the stage version of Singin’ in the Rain I talked about how the cast faced a problem competing with the iconic screen versions of their characters. Of course, trying to match Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was going to be a big ask and while Zizi Strallen and Matt Lee don’t come close they still do a damn fine job.
The plot differs from the movie in that there’s a new villain, different fantasy sequences (after much speculation of how they would do it there are no dancing penguins) and a change in the story as to why Mr. Banks gets into trouble at work. It’s this change to Mr Banks’s story that hampers the show the most, with it lacking the emotional impact of the original movie and robbing the show of the big feelgood ending.

The other change to the plot is that the Banks kids are a lot more unpleasant here. In the film they’re mischievous in a normal way, smashing against the rigid confines of old English society, but here they’re kinda d**ks. They come good eventually, but at the start you want to knock their heads together. Their slightly stilted performances hurt it too.

But these flaws are easy to overlook thanks to a script which is frequently funny and charming, boasting a few solid musical numbers along the way.

And the execution is superb. The choreography is faultless, full of life and fun, with dancers throwing and spinning themselves about to great effect. They capture the chimney sweeps, the regular Londoners and the characters of the dayglo fantasy sequences.

It’s here where Matt Lee as Bert shines. Vocally he’s not the strongest and there are moments his accent is more Erinsborough than East End, but as a dancer he is superb. One sequence where he dances up the sides of the stage is jaw dropping and immediately topped as he hangs upside down, still singing, to cross the stage at the top. It’s one of many fantastic pieces of wire work on show.
The spectacle is captivating and for a lifelong Poppins fan it moved MWF to joyous tears. For me it was utterly charming, and I loved the way it was all done.

Well, almost all.

A scene where the kids’ toys come alive is creepy as all hell, and features clowns. I bloody hate clowns.

But moving past this the show is a marvel, and one of the strongest aspects is the ingenious set design which features a towering house, distorted bank and park landscape, all done extremely well due to clever interlocking parts and smooth transitions. From our seat among the gods we could see the tracks and strings, but seeing the intricacies actually made it all the more impressive as you saw the thought and work that had gone into it.

The cast are on point throughout (kids aside, but they’ll learn) and there are no weak links. While it didn’t move me as much as the film, and some aspects failed for me, it was still a vibrant, entertaining show with great music and a charming story.

Well worth catching if you can just because of the invention, skill and fun on display. When it works, it really works.

Verdict: 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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