West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production delivers an action packed play for children. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang pulls on heartstrings with the well-known story line whilst simultaneously terrifying all family members. Team purple pair with a recognisable cast and most importantly the famous Chitty. Together they display the love most families wish to reflect and push forward the agenda of a happy home. “Teamwork can make dreamwork”.
Jason Manford’s popular Caractacus Potts is a single parent. His children are his priority whilst he successfully fails at most of his inventions. The love between a car and children result in a father’s pursuit for ultimate satisfaction. With the help of Truly Scrumptious (Charlotte Wakefield) all seems possible. Is it ever that simple?
Ian Fleming’s famous ‘villain story line’ punches in the natives of Vulgaria. A nation with hatred of children, and a passion for spying and toys. For those whose nostalgia cannot reach back to the happy ending, it places kindred good spirits onto our stages.
WYP artistic director James Brining’s production is fast paced however the first half and the musical numbers prolong their welcome for that bit too long. The swiftness of the second half takes away from the 80 minute first half (which was not something particularly popular with an audience filled with restless children). There are, however, many good points as to why this a leading production for the younger audience.
The set design, including props, exceed in comparison to most touring theatre. The family dog made out of tin or the wooden group of dogs pulled in by the sound of whistling sweets, all collectively bring to mind the magic of the original story. Simon Higlett has expressed that “this design injects Potts’ eccentric take on life and problem solving”. At the Ambassador Theatre, it certainly does this but with impressive, vivid creativity. Each scene, whether it is in the family home, flying up in the air, or within the boundaries of the wacky Vulgaria, pulls you away from reality and into the world of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
All children lead this play with performances of high calibre and it is very exciting to see such amazing talent on tour. Both Lucy Sherman and Hayden Goldberg bounce of one another and portray enthusiastic children from an earlier era without technology. Something to stir the memory of life before smartphones. The ensemble cast of children equally impress with their vocals.
Manford is at his best playing the romantic fool alongside Wakefield’s Truly. As a doting father, his youthful appearance doesn’t convince when it comes to his parental duties although Hushabye Mountain exemplifies his best fatherly moment. Claire Sweeney, a TV favourite, playing Baroness Bomburst, AKA the child hater, adds spark every moment she is onstage. It is evident why she is nationally recognised and although her villainous desires are to be despised, she is a fun actress and leads the Bombie Samba with an infectious energy.
The person to steal the show is the child catcher – Jos Vantyler. As his shadow forewarns of his despicable act, something sinister creeps into the aisles and children’s murmurs highlight the fears of most parents. It is not certain what exactly the production is alluding to – or if there is any reference – but he does stir discomfort.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is an exciting production for the younger audience. There are parts that terrify all members of the family. The love connection between Potts and Truly stirs emotions and with a bigger role for Chitty the Car and a shorter first half, this production would raise its appeal to its adult following.