Mary Poppins lands in town
PL Travers Mary Poppins is one of those classic tales that most people know of, regardless of their age. Immortalised by Julie Andrews in the hit Disney film, this stoic, stern but fair nanny takes charge of the Banks' children when their behaviour gets out of hand. The original Super Nanny soon discovers that she has to teach the parents how to conduct themselves, in an age where children are seen but not heard.
Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes’ book is respectful to Traver’s original, with the odd tweak and nuance – designed to appeal to a savvy audience. The Sherman Brothers classic songs A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed the Birds and Chim Chim Cher-ee and others remain, alongside new songs and additional lyrics by another dynamic duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. These new additions work seamlessly, although the song Playing the Game does slow things down slightly.
If you love dance, Matthew Bourne’s choreography is absolutely stunning. Mary (Zizi Strallen) and her chimney sweep pal, Bert (Matt Lee) rise to the challenge, with ease and Lee does a Lionel Ritchie and ‘dances on the ceiling’ during the wonderful set piece, Step In Time.
The entire cast are excellent, as each member gives it their all, so much so that the stage never feels crowded. Strallen is perfection personified as Poppins, her knowing glances, raised eyebrows and the way that she glides across the stage, engage you instantly. Matt Lee’s Australian accent keeps slipping out but he is a magnificent dancer and has stage presence to burn.
The Banks family are all excellent, with Rebecca Lock shining as the much put upon mother of the house, Winifred, Grainnie Renahan’s Bird Woman has beautiful vocals, which would get the winged ones out of the trees and eating out of her hand and Wendy Ferguson’s Miss Brill offers comic relief.
The ensemble fill the stage with colour and talent and Bob Crowley’s excellent set and dazzling costumes are a sight to behold.
Does Mary fly? Well, that would ruin the magical surprises in store for you but the show sure flies, sky high and apart from the overlong first half – Mary Poppins is Practically Perfect. And for a touring production, it’s as good as anything you will see in the West End.
Glenn Meads for Canal St Online
Mary Poppins at the Palace Theatre until 5 March