Theatre review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Call it zeitgeist, if you like; but it seems to me that the creators of current UK touring theatre are responding, almost unconsciously, to a kind of retro-British mood that would never have crossed their minds half a decade ago.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh ****

A couple of weeks ago, during the Kinks tribute musical at the Playhouse, the audience was treated to a prolonged celebration of England’s 1966 World Cup victory, all fluttering Union flags.

And now here’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Ian Fleming’s quintessentially English tale of how a nation of sensible tea drinkers and brilliant eccentrics defeats a bunch of comic fascist foreigners with the help of a flying car, and the addition – in this new touring version by West Yorkshire Playhouse with Music & Lyrics – of Dad’s Army-style graphics, Morris dancers and yet more Union Jacks.

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    Cultural subtext apart, though, this new staging by former Dundee Rep boss James Brining confirms his reputation as an inspired director of musical theatre, bringing together all the elements of song, dance, drama and spectacle in a brilliantly fluent piece of theatrical storytelling.

    Jason Manford is an instantly likeable Caractacus Potts with a beautiful voice, particularly in the show’s famous lullaby, Hushabye Mountain. Hayden Goldberg and Caitlin Surtees are impressive and delightful, as one of three teams playing the Potts children, Jeremy and Jemima; and Charlotte Wakefield is gorgeous and spirited as the family’s new friend, Truly Scrumptious.

    As for Phil Jupitus and Clare Sweeney as the evil Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria – well, perhaps it just wasn’t the week for laboured jokes about foreigners who can’t pronounce “th”, delivered by a pair of embarrassed-looking celebrities.

    In the end, though, they brought only a small loss of momentum to show that has the whole capacity audience bouncing in their seats, as one of the most infectiously rhythmic title-songs in the canon rattles its way cheerfully towards the final 
curtain, taking us with it, all the way.


    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 16 October, then at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 19-29 October.