A year ago, I reviewed this production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was a superb show – slick and magical. This, in part, was due to the cast. The talented, seasoned West End performers who knew how to hold a moment, when to throw a line away and had oodles of stage craft pouring from them. All of this and yet somehow they had enough nous to know that the real star was the car, the £750,000 prop which magically flies the Potts family to adventures beyond their imagination.
So I was thrilled to be returning to the musical at Salford’s Lowry this month to revisit this high quality production from over the Moors.
The cast has changed, the main roles going to household names. Jason Manford takes on inventor-dad Caractacus Potts, Claire Sweeney is the child-hating Baroness and Phil Jupitus plays the teddy-bear bonkers Baron. There’s also a scrumptious Truly played by Olivier-nominated actor Charlotte Wakefield.
It’s the same show. Exactly the same. So it should be another treat, and, for the most part, it’s entertaining enough. However, something has been lost in translation. Perhaps the drive over the Moors has exhausted poor Chitty as this presentation is a little lacklustre. The performers don’t seem quite as committed, the show is a little clunky and punchlines nose-dive into an underwhelmed audience.
It’s hard to put a finger on why it hasn’t quite hit the spot this time, but I wonder whether some of the cast are entirely capable of understanding that there’s really only one star. By using this as a ‘vehicle’ for their own career means instead of winning the race, they crash and burn.
Of course, there’s some cracking direction and hilarious moments as well as two terrific dance numbers. The set and lighting design is technically brilliant and the iconic music (by the Sherman Brothers) has the audience joining in. So it’s a shame that the stars don’t quite match the production value and, sadly, the less than energetic performances expose a flimsy plot which ultimately means there’s not a lot worth caring about.
Like the National Theatre’s War Horse – another production where an inanimate prop melts audience’s hearts – no amount of celebrity can outshine our fine four-fendered friend.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is at The Lowry in Salford until January 15, 2017. For more information, click here.