Northern Light Theatre Company
Shedley Theatre
Until 28 Apr 2018

Review by Thomas Filsell

Northern Light Theatre company offers us an opportunity with their production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” – an opportunity to escape to a whimsical, primary and pastel coloured, musical fantasy world, with great humour, great songs, and great big characters to keep us captivated and entertained for a couple of hours of an evening, away from all the humdrum, mundanity and threatful, fretful disturbances of the modern workaday life.

The most significant and satisfying aspect of this production is the escapism that the company, headed by director Gordie Combes, manage to create such a complete and convincing Sherman Brothers world – where singing is just the right way to convey your emotions and where it’s more fun to dance from A to B than to walk it. The original Caractacus Potts himself would be jealous of their inventiveness.

The sets, props and lighting design were all bright and full of colour, suitably redolent of Mary Poppins and the reds and yellows I associate with Roald Dahl.

The costume design was superb – a real standout. There were several wardrobe changes to be made by many of the actors throughout the show, and each was an opportunity for a new shock of colour or a flash of stylistic flair. There was nothing stale or derivative in the on-stage style of the cast for this show – the costumes were all original, unique, and tailor-made for the inhabitants of a silly, colourful, musical world.

The music, also, enthralled, entertained and underscored a magical evening. I was truly impressed with the vitality and vigour of the pit conductor, Musical Director Paul Sinkinson, who was seen bouncing and brandishing his baton with bounteous bravado just below stage throughout a long theatrical evening. His musicians all played perfectly, without noticeable fault. There was some problem with the sound levels – in the beginning, particularly, it was difficult to hear the words of the actors, spoken or sung, over the music of the pit orchestra.

The dance numbers were plentiful, and all executed very well by both the actors on stage and choreographer Sue Pole, who devised them. It was satisfying to see such a large cast of people come together and move so seamlessly and with great energy to boot. The actors, too, introduced great physical quirks and traits into their performances which made the action so much more entertaining. Gavin Cianci as Baron Bomburst had a childlike jauntiness and innocence to his movements that both endeared him to us, notwithstanding his role as the villain of the piece, and made for many moments of great humour; Tom Adams was jazzy, feminine and balletic in his movements, which made him standout and soar every time he was on stage; the ensemble members who played the Vulgarian scientists did a great job of becoming old and crooked with time; and Michael Trower had an intriguing take on the gait of his character, the Toymaker.

Comedy came from many quarters in this production – Gavin Cianci and Georgia Stockham as Baron and Baroness Bomburst were great together and never failed to make us laugh; Russell Ford as Grandpa Potts bumbled and rambled on stage to good comedic effect; and Daniel Vickers, as the twisted, unsettlingly sadomasochistic Childcatcher, managed to find some good humorous moments in his time on stage. But Tom Adams and Gary Humphries as Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran were the comedic standouts in this production. They worked perfectly well together, yet were their own men with their own comedic and performative styles, not carbon copies of one another nor of performers who’ve come before. Tom Adams was, for me, the comedic kernel at the core of the show – with unbroken expression and dedication to his characters ridiculous bits, he was always funny when on stage without noticeably trying to get the laughs his actions merited. I laughed at everything he did and always wanted more.

The main cast, including the Potts family and Truly Scrumptious, played by a very loveable, very Mary Poppins-like Kate Hodges, were all completely empathetic and completely convincing. The Potts children, played by Harry Ince and Holly Abbot, and their father Caractacus Potts, played by Andrew Crispe, really did seem like a happy, sing-song family, complete with love and proper familial affection.

Ince and Abbot were very impressive for such young performers – they were both talented and convincing actors with great command of their characters and lines, they were also good dancers, and great singers, who harmonised well with each other and with their Father figure, Caractacus, and surrogate mother figure, Truly Scrumptious.

Andrew Crispe as Caractacus Potts, the leading protagonist and empathetic centre of the play, was an unfaltering singer and dancer, and played a very convincing single father to two loving children, and an even more convincing love interest to the female lead, Truly Scrumptious. This must have been as much Kate Hodges’ doing as Crispe’s, for together these two made a completely charming couple and had great romantic chemistry so that it really did feel like the Potts family had found a new member by the end of the play.

Hodges herself had a lovely singing voice and just the right amount of innocence and maternal tenderness to pull off Truly Scrumptious in the right way.

Take your kids to this show - you won't regret it. It will not fail to put a smile on their little faces while you too grin along like a Cheshire cat. There is enough tongue-in-cheek humour, and veiled ribaldry to keep you entertained on an adult level while your kids are engulfed in the colour and whimsy that is the Chitty-Chitty world.