Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, made famous by the 1968 film starring Dick Van Dyke, premiered as a new musical in the West End at the London Palladium in 2002. Since then it has enjoyed success touring the UK including the most recent 2015/16 production starring Lee Mead as the humble inventor and father Carraticus Potts and Carrie Hope Fletcher as the lovely Truly Scrumptious. This half term Orbit Theatre has brought their production of the whimsical fantasy tale to Cardiff’s New Theatre and I was lucky enough to attend one of their opening performances. I’ll be reviewing this show as a particular production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang rather than the construction of the story as it is very popular.
I was particularly excited to hear the songs of the Sherman brothers performed live. These songs have proved vital to character construction in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang throughout its popularity but particularly in the musical adaptation.
Lewis Cook’s gorgeous fatherly rendition of ‘Hushabye Mountain’ lived up to my admittedly high expectations of the popular song however, I was especially happy to see that his interpretation of ‘Me ‘Ol Bamboo’ was not unrealistically polished. His dancing made it realistic that he had just found his way into the dance troop and I think this was a refreshing change of pace from some overly-choreographed characters in theatrical productions. Similarly, while the dialogue does start at a slower pace, Hannah Rix proved to have a lovely voice and wonderfully friendly and relaxed manner as Truly Scrumptious. It always felt that she was a good friend to Jeremy and Jemima and the relationship between the main four, especially thanks to the child actors, was excellent. I only wish that Truly turned during ‘Doll on a Music Box’ as the ending this turning creates, as truly stops close to Pott’s face, does seem to add to the chemistry between Potts and Truly during that scene which was slightly absent during this scene.
On the other side, I loved Andre Spring’s faithful portrayal of The Childcatcher. Admittedly, he does not get a lot of time to take the character in many original directions but his voice, manner and costume, including stunning makeup, were wonderful in constructing the creepiness he is renowned for. I also loved the originality of his introduction as the lights were blacked out and he suddenly appeared which simply added another level to the intrigue of The Childcatcher. My main issue with this production came with the sound mixing. Volume issues were particularly prevelant in the ensemble and their diction was very heavily affected.
Of course, another vital character comes in the form of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang itself in the car. The car, provided by the professional company Chitty Hire, looked gorgeous. Admittedly, I was worried at first that the car wouldn’t have the traditional wings but the wait proved to be worth it. The end of act one was magical as the dramatic lighting created a perfect reveal of the wings and the first full flight.
The set design throughout this production was very simplistic and reminded me of the illustrations of a children’s book. Due to the exaggerated characature-like construction of characters such as Grandpa Potts, the Baron, Baroness and the spies Boris and Goran this design really fitted the narrative. The only scene in which this didn’t translate well was the attack on Chitty from a ship. It wasn’t very clear that the ship was attacking or where it was. However, the addition of Richard G. Jones’ lighting design and the realism of the car really brought this production forward into the realm of mature theatre.
I also enjoyed the many references to the literal workings of theatre. For example, references were made to the conductor and a literally tiny shed was used to depict Grandpa Potts’ shed being taken through the air. While not smooth and very obvious, I really liked these aspects as methods of teaching the children in the audience about practical effects and its purpose. There were also a few effects which drew the line between pantomime effects and standardised theatre.
Therefore, mainly I found that this production would be a truly excellent introduction for children to theatre beyond pantomime. Particularly the closing moments of act one would be very magical from a child’s point of view as one of their first theatre experiences. This makes this production a wonderful idea for a half term trip. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is booking until Sunday the 3rd of June, please book your tickets through Cardiff’s New Theatre here: http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/orbit-theatre-chitty-chitty-bang-bang/