Review: Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Wales Millennium Centre
It's time to start believing! A magical ride that will keep you engaged, have you wonder at the effects and illusions and make you chuckle the whole way through, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is definitely a show that will delight kids and adults alike. I've been going through a huge Disney phase over the past two weeks, enjoying musical films from both the Golden era and more recent years, so when I had an invitation to the on-stage production of this cult classic I leapt at the chance.
So, a little bit of backstory. I must admit, the 1971 film isn't one I remember a great deal, of but I have vague memories of catching it on TV and seeing the cartoon fish and all of the animals playing football. In terms of cultural impact, it's definitely been overshadowed by Mary Poppins which was out a few years previously. Both blend live action with animation, feature a strong female lead who takes care of young children, and introduce us to an extroverted supporting male lead along the way. I do think Mary Poppins has catchier songs for sure, but the storyline for Bedknobs is just so much more badass. It's not just a fluffy, whimsical tale - the stakes are high on this adventure.
Star of the show Elgantine Price (Dianne Pilkington) is a charismatic witch-in-training on a mission to master a spell that will bring down the Nazis who are set land in Dorset, where she resides alongside three adopted orphans who lost their parents during the war. With time running out, uses her magic on a bedknob that allows the children's bed to fly them all over to London on a quest to meet the lovably bonkers Professor Emelius Browne (Charles Brunton) who she believes is the only person who can help them. Pilkington plays Elgantine very endearingly, with warmth and softness to complement her fierce, tough and determined nature, making her a well-rounded, genuinely likeable character. Brunton as Emelius plays a true eccentric spot on, excellent casting.
Whilst I'm mentioning the cast, I'm a big fan of the lovely Rob Madge after following his TikTok for months (which always has me in hysterics). I kept looking out for him in the ensemble, then was delighted to see he has a larger part as a fish in second act and was definitely well-deserving of the loud whoops and cheers he got at the end of the show! The two younger children were a joy to watch and very cute together. In the film, the eldest son is a lot younger and I wish they had cast somebody who was more of that age, it felt odd to have an adult acting so much younger than they looked.
The original songs by the Sherman Brothers that featured in the films remain, alongside some new musical numbers by Neil Bartram. I can't say I that they'll be stuck in my head or that I'll want to download the songs to revisit them, but they all slotted in wonderfully and were performed with gusto by the cast. "The Beautiful Briny" (originally written for Mary Poppins, fun fact!) and the rousing "Portobello Road" were by far the standout songs and the ones that really made the most of the incredible ensemble and brilliant costumes.
The numerous illusions and special effects are slick; it must have been such a challenge to come up with ways of bringing the cartoon sequences to theatre in some form. I mean, to have a moving pair of trousers, a flying bed, a man turning into a rabbit and a moving suit of armour is no easy feat to pull off on stage. They managed to master this technical wizardry and it helped to make some scenes feel like a great spectacle, a visual treat.
Not to end on a negative but to keep this balanced, there were some parts of the show or certain jokes from Brian Hill's book which I did think were definitely more for the benefit of the children in the audience. But in fairness, it is marketed towards children and families and there's plenty in there for us oldies to laugh at too. The first act had better pacing as well. The ending also isn't the same as in the film and for me this was a real shame, I far preferred how the film wrapped it all up, but I've decided I won't include any spoilers!
It won't be making it to my list of all time favourite shows, but this mystical journey was a whole lot of fun and certainly put a smile on my face. If you want to embrace the child within you and have a few hours of total escapism, book your tickets now at the WMC: https://www.ents24.com/cardiff-events/wales-millennium-centre/bedknobs-and-broomsticks/6270214