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Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at The West Yorkshire Playhouse

12 December 2015
Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at The West Yorkshire Playhouse
The tale described as ‘Fantasmagorical’, reflects perfectly the weird and wonderful hybrid of an original Ian Fleming story, employing tales of espionage, and an injection of the mad and totally random by Roald Dahl’s stage script. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, thus named after the coughs and splutters of the old car, has more of a pantomime sentiment throughout, with a lot of nudge nudge moments overlaying a more subtle core message. The play is perfect for the Christmas season, with both pizzazz and an underpinning message of the importance of family and whatever form that takes.

The trouble with such a haphazard storyline is that the tale is incredibly difficult to portray smoothly on stage, with scene changes, set limitations and stuffing a whole chorus on stage. However, instead of resisting this and streamlining the plot, the musical adaptation totally embraces the randomness of the tale. For many, the half-dreamed turn of events involving Vulgarian spies, flying cars and a sweet factory is stamped onto their consciousness, accepted and treasured as a classic.

Perhaps if the story were unknown to most it would leave a few baffled, but the tale perfectly encapsulates the kind of eclectic British mayhem one experiences when a spy novelist’s (with a fondness for racing motor cars) story meets the zany mind of Roald Dahl whose hallmark is arguably sweet factories and despicable characters. Speaking of which, the addition of Laurel and Hardy-esque Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran (played by Sam Harrison and Scott Page) to the story was one of the most effective, injecting a healthy dose of slap stick that took its influence from a kind of Vaudevillian nostalgia. The Baroness and Baron also provided some laughs, the naughty pair hell bent on stealing the famous car from the Potts’ clutches. The Bombie Samba number, which has been described as unnecessary in previous years (which is unfair considering the general superfluous nature of much of the plot) is one of the most fun and well put together numbers, largely down to the exuberance and polished performance from Tamsin Carroll’s The Baroness.

Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at The West Yorkshire Playhouse

Speaking of feisty women, this production’s Truly Scrumptious, played by a perky Amy Griffiths, is scarcely reminiscent of her 1968 predecessor played by sweetness and light Sally Ann Howes. This Truly is emancipated and independent, first whizzing into sight on a rather more risqué motorcycle, and often wears gamine trouser suits rather than the ladylike ruffles of the original. Hers and Burt’s interaction is obviously much less Fairytale in the sense that she doesn’t gush and coo over the new man in her life; the choice to include song Lovely Lonely Man explores the vulnerability of single father Potts in a moment strikingly tender amongst the high velocity mayhem.

From the family orientated moments to the sheer fright of the child catcher- made more terrifying by reaching and clawing shadows, projected ominously against the backdrop - and of course the consistent pandemonium and fun throughout, this show is a wonderful alternative to a Christmas pantomime, and will have you clapping with glee.

Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.
Photography by Alastair Muir