Prince Edward Theatre, London ★★★★✩
OH MARY POPPINS! With an extra spoonful of sugar and an added ladle of pop psychology, everyone’s favourite nanny is back to bathe the West End in cheery nostalgia, 15 years after Cameron Mackintosh’s musical first premiered.
Richard Eyre’s thoroughly enjoyable production, heavily modelled on the 1964 Disney film but with a newly updated book by Julian Fellowes, is both sweeter and darker than the film (itself quite different from the PL Travers books). There’s a nod to children’s story-telling in Bob Crowley’s wonderful, cardboard pop-up-style sets, but the main focus is on the adult Mr Banks, an emotional deep freeze of a father and husband who was severely traumatised as a child by his own nanny (the demonic ‘Holy Terror’).
It is he who Zizi Strallen’s somewhat blank Mary Poppins has come to thaw and Joseph Millson’s gradual transformation from tightly buttoned-up capitalist to devoted family man is what, in the end, motors the evening.
Considering Matthew Bourne is in charge of choreography, the dance sequences are decidedly average apart from Step In Time — an exhilarating percussive pummel featuring tap-dancing chimney sweeps and a proscenium arch-scaling, upside-down Bert (the excellent Charlie Stemp). And Amy Griffiths’s Mrs Banks is a bit of a drip compared to Glynis Johns’ spirited suffragette in the film.
But it always looks wonderful. The inscrutable Strallen has a lot of fun magicking props seemingly out of thin air while the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number is, well, super.
The score sounds as glorious as you remember, although the new, cruder songs jar slightly (as do the couple of additional new scenes, to be honest).
But a cameo from Petula Clark as the bird lady is a nice touch. Overall it’s not quite practically perfect, but it is certainly hard to resist.