Some people hate the M62 – that windy, high-peaked, lugubrious trek from east to west or west to east. But I like the journey, especially the one from Manchester to Leeds. As the car judders over the highest motorway in England, it’s an adventure. Most motorway journeys are like a long, slow, terminal illness and so the climb over Saddleworth Moors is a change; a giddying climb into the clouds that feels like flying. Fitting then that today’s journey is to see West Yorkshire Playhouse’s polished production of Ian Fleming’s Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.
There is much to rival a West End show in this production with quality design from Simon Higlett and video designer Simon Wainwright. I am told by my companion – a set and prop builder – that technically it’s a very complex production. But you wouldn’t know it thanks to the slick ease of the show. This is due in part to near-perfect direction from artistic director James Brining and his solid company of talented actors. No wonder then that it is selling well.
The original stage production took place in London in 2002 and ran for more than three years, later transferring to New York. It has a string of Olivier and Tony nominations under its belt. It’s clear why one of Yorkshire’s biggest producing houses had an inkling it might do well at their gaff.
Ian Fleming wrote the original novel for his son Casper in 1964 and there is more than a passing whiff of spy-thriller about the story with espionage and kidnapping, exotic locations and a vehicle endowed with inventive Q-like capabilities.
The real star of the show is, of course, the car. Fleming, better known as the creator of James Bond, took his inspiration from aero-engined racing cars called ‘Chitty Bang Bang’. The car built for the original stage production cost a whopping £750,000 and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive stage prop ever.
This expensive-looking production is funny, very funny and not ‘Toot Sweet’ to cause toothache from all those sickly family values. It’s surprisingly moving too with more than enough Oscar-winning help from songwriting duo, the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book).
There’s some superb choreography from Stephen Mear garnering big cheers throughout the show. Today’s audiences are more conditioned to watching long dance routines and even quite liking them compared to, say, 20 years ago, thanks to (one assumes) Strictly Come Dancing‘s popularity.
After its run at the Playhouse, a nationwide tour is scheduled with big comedy names including Jason Manford and Phil Jupitus signed up. Be sure to catch this Truly Scrumptious production.
By Lucia Cox
Photos by Alastair Muir
What: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Where: West Yorkshire Playhouse
When: until January 30, 2016 and touring
More Info: www.wyp.org.uk/events/chitty-chitty-bang-bang-2; www.chittythemusical.co.uk