Review - 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' at the London Palladium 2002

I was intrigued to imagine how the movie-musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" could be adapted for stage. After all, flying cars and outdoor latrines are not something one can easily imagine on stage, yet Jeremy Sams' adaptation brings the imagination to life. This is a delightful family show that is sure to bring a great deal of pleasure to many children and so subsequently to their parents as they watch their little ones squeal with delight.

The story, like all good children stories, is simple and charming in which goodness overcomes evil and motherless children find perfect stepmothers. The tale concerns two such children, Jeremy and Jemima, who are adored by their father, the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts, and their slightly potty grandfather. In order to please his children Caractacus agrees to purchase an old and battered 'magic' racing car, which unbeknown to him, will both float on water and fly through the air.

However, Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria who is desperate to win the British Grand Prix is also seeking the car. The Baron attempts to capture the car, but fails as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang proves to be too fast upon both land and sea! The Baron, not to be outdone, then decides to have Caractacus Potts kidnapped and brought to Vulgaria to build a flying car for him. However, his incompetent spies capture Grandpa Potts by mistake, and so the remainder of the Potts family along with the children's new friend Truly Scrumptious, pursue the Baron's Air Ship in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

They land in Vulgaria, the Baron's unhappy country where all children have been banished by the Baron's wife, who employs a child catcher to search the streets sniffing out children with his nose. The Pott family is befriended by the Toy maker who hides the family in his home in an attempt to save them from the child catcher.

The stage setting, by Anthony Ward, for this spectacular theatrical feast is bound to delight any child, no matter their age. The magical inventions of Caractacus, steam, hiss and explode with reassuring satisfaction. The Scrumptious sweet factory, full of large brass pots attended to by hosts of attentive workers, mesmerises the senses and best of all there is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which appears to fly through the air without the aid of any mechanical contraption, which has the children audibly gasping in their seats.

Michael Ball is perfect as Caractacus, the mischievous and charming father. Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe are spellbinding as the ghastly Baron and Baroness. Richard O'Brian as 'The Childcather', reeks of evil has he creeps around the stage seeking children. However the best performance must go to Anton Rodgers as the adorable and crazy grandfather. He delights the audience with his silly jokes about elephants in pyjamas and his make-believe trips to India.

This is a superb production that will charm both child and parent alike.

Alan Bird

What other critics had to say.....

DARREN DALGLISH says, "A magical and delightful show that will have you gasping when the car takes to the air. Simple story, enchanting music, great acting and brilliant designs. A perfect family show." TIM MASTERS for BBC ONLINE says, "You come out of the London Palladium feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Sheer theatrical magic" And goes on to say, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang proves itself an ageless pleasure and a pleasure for all ages. " MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "It is the car everyone has come to see, and I can only report that when it becomes airborne and flies over the front stalls there are gasps of astonished delight." WARWICK THOMPSON for LONDON METRO says, "Be amazed. Be very amazed." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The audience was purring with pleasure from the moment the band struck up the title tune during the overture." GEORGINA BROWN for THE MAIL ON SUNDAY says, "Oh dear. I hate to be a wet blanket, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a huge disappointment." MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, " Brilliantly and ingeniously designed by Anthony Ward."

External links to full reviews from newspapers...

The Guardian
BBC On line
Mail on Sunday
Daily Mail

Next review by Gary Mack

Aug 02

Finally a show for all ages to shout and scream over!

As my wife and I entered the Royal Circle of the famous London Palladium I knew we were in for a real treat, you could feel the love and anticipation for a much-loved movie.

There are some interesting facts about the staging of this film phenomenon and the creative team behind it starting with its creator Ian Fleming. Ian Fleming is probably best known for creating the world's most famous secret agent James Bond 007. He wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for his son Caspar that was published in 1964.

Four years later Ian Fleming's work was taken to the big screen sadly not seen by Fleming as he died in 1964. The film was produced by one partner of Eon Productions by the same producer of the James Bond films Albert R. Broccoli. The film premiered in 1968 and was an enormous success, Broccoli had already produced the first five James Bond films with his co producer Harry Saltzman and went on to produce another four bond films with his co producer before taking complete control in 1976 he further produced another eight 007adventures before his death in 1996.

Albert R. Broccoli is not the only 007 connection that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang shares, key members of the production for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang collaborated on the film production. People like Ken Adam the films production designer, Peter Hunt editor also directed "On HerMajesty's Secret Service" even some 007-cast members were brought in such as Desmond Llewelyn better know as "Q" in the bond films played Coggins the scrap dealer, and Gert Frobe who played the bond villain "Goldfinger" was cast as Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So can the stage performers live up to the expectations of the audience? The answer is simply YES!

The stage production, which is produced by Dana Broccoli, Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. The production is staged at the famous London Palladium, which to me gives even more enjoyment to seeing the show. From the start of the show to the final curtain, the theatre is filled with pure joy in between gasps of excitement and the hisses and boo's for the Child-catcher.

The very talented cast is led by Michael Ball who takes on the role of Caractacus Potts and gives a fine performance! I was very impressed with Emma Williams's portrayal of 'Truly Scrumptious' she sings beautifully and gives a convincing performance. Anton Rogers takes on the role of Grandpa Potts and is just brilliant, such a witty performance from such a great actor. I think both Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe were superbly cast as Baron & Baroness Bomburst a great performance. Richard O' Brian gives a truly convincing performance as the childcatcher and the stunt he performs needs ahead for heights!

I think a special mention is deserved for all the children in the production as specially Luke Newberry & Kimberly Fletcher who played the leading children on the performance I attended, great!

The real star of the show is of course the car, which is very cleverly designed, and will have you on the edge of your seats! AnthonyWard's brilliant and imaginative stage design brings to life what we have only ever seen on screen. The whole production is a sure fire hit with children and adults of all ages shouting and screaming for more, I am sure by the response of the standing ovation at The London Palladium that people will return to visit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang many times and I think its set for a long run...Ian Fleming & Albert R (Cubby) Broccoli would have been so very proud...

This is a must see show for the fans of the film and a must see show if your not!

Gary Mack

Now in its 3rd Fantasmagorical year! 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' is still flying high at The London Palladium, audiences are still as enthusiastic as when "Chitty" first landed on the stage, the real star of the show without question is the car; the fantastic set design by Anthony Ward is only complemented by Adian Noble's slick direction. The cast has of course changed over the last three years with an array of stars appearing in the show, such as Michael Ball (original London Cast) Jason Donavan, Gary Wilmot to name a few. Then the part of the child catcher seems to attract a good mix of stars such as Richard O' Brian (original London Cast) Wayne Sleep, Stephen Gateley and now 70's pop star Alvin Stardust.

Some members of this March 2005 cast have been with the show a number of months such as Christopher Biggins & Christopher Ryan etc and it shows, they are relaxed and seem to love their respective roles.

Jo Gibb was taking the role of Truly Scrumptious she played the role with zest and energy that was great to see. Playing the roles of Barron & Baroness Bomburst were Christopher Biggins & Louise Gold both put in great performances although it was difficult to match the power and zest of original cast members Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe, however they pull it off with convincing grace.

The part of Grandpa Potts was taken on by Tony Adam's noted for playing 'Adam Chance' in the long running soap opera "Crossroads" with a wealth of theatre experience behind him, he delivered a good performance but did not match Anton Roger's light hearted swing at the role.

Alvin Stardust dons the make-up to play the role of 'The Child Catcher' although he was convincing I don't feel he was menacing enough. However the stunt the Child Catcher performs is still breath taking!

The leading role of 'Caractacus Potts' was played by none other than Brian Conley a noted stand up comedy artist, turned stage musical TV and film actor. Having seen some of his previous work and knowing that his stage performances have included such hits as "Me & My Girl" & the Olivier award winning "Jolson" both in the West End; I thought this was an inspired choice.

Brian Conley's performance as 'Caractacus' is believable and he carries the role with his own style, he performs all the musical numbers with a great energy and the comedy moments are well timed, the now famous "Old Bamboo" routine was great and of course the title song. He works well with Jo Gibb but fails to give 'Caractacus' the slice of madness and depth that was portrayed so well by Michael Ball.

This show is still a blast and a spectacle to see if you have not seen it then book now, I'm sure the car will be flying at the Palladium for sometime to come...


Next Review by Jonathan Richards

22 Sep 03

Lovers of pantomime rejoice! You needn't wait until Christmas time to boo and hiss the baddy, cheer for the lovers, or ooh-and-ah at the spectacle since, more than a year later, Adrian Noble's production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is still packing in children and adults at the London Palladium. A difference you might notice is the price tag, and at £42.50 for a top price seat, your bank balance may be a little more stretched than at your local Winter panto. What Noble offers us in return, however, is rather a lot of spectacle (if not much substance) including a plethora of whacky machines, a pack of dogs, ample song and dance, and of course Chitty, the infamous flying car. But while I admit to sharing the gasps of squirmy delight as Chitty soared above the front stalls at the end of each act, the lead up material and production is not always so enchanting.

Originally a Sherman Brothers musical film based on the story by Ian Fleming, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" concerns single father and mad inventor Caractacus Potts who resurrects an old car for his children which turns out to be more than they could ever have bargained for. Greedy Vulgarian Baron Bomburst and his child-hating wife are keen to get their hands on Chitty and its inventor, and so spying, fights and chases galore ensue until the car finally rests in the hands of those who will love it best. The Sherman Brothers' music and lyrics are certainly pleasant and sweet enough to fell a rhinoceros, but with a few exceptions do not amount to much. Jeremy Sams' adaptation cuts out many of the longueurs of the film to make the first act more concise (even though the total running time comes in at just under three hours,) but his overly long stand up segments often fall flat, just as does some of Noble and choreographer Gillian Lynne's staging. Lynne's energetic, prancing, slightly balletic choreography is usually sweet and charming, but the focus of too many large numbers is lost, thus making the stage look a confusing mess.

Noble's over-blown pantomime has, however, come a fair way since its opening in the Spring of last year, and is enormously served by the new casting of Gary Willmot and Caroline Sheen as the whacky inventor Caractacus and sweet-as-her-name Truly Scrumptious respectively. Willmot may lack the richness of voice which Michael Ball brought to the role, but his more simple tone serves the unassuming, simple nature of Caractacus well and he is a touching father and effortlessly loveable. Sheen lends a combination of English aristocratic primness and tremendous warmth to Truly, and her pairing with Willmot is beautifully complementary. Elsewhere, however, some of the new cast is not so ideal....

Poor Wayne Sleep. True, the former ballet star may feel at home prancing around the stage in a pair of tights, but he certainly struggles performing what has to be the worst song ever to survive a preview period. Coupled with the fact his Childcatcher is reduced to silly insubstantial cameos, it is often hard to tell whether the audience is booing Sleep or his one dimensional character. Nicola McAuliffe and Brian Blessed's superbly grotesque Baron and Baroness Bomburst were always going to be a hard to act follow, but Sandra Dickinson, with her squeaky voice and perma-grin, and Victor Spinetti's underpowered turn sadly do not match up, or pack the same comic punch.

Anthony Ward's designs which combine simple landscapes and blocks of colour with intricate, detailed machinery are effective, but what Ward serves us up is a string of clever gadgets along with otherwise uninspiring, colourful backdrops which, for me at any rate, didn't tickle my senses.

Yes, "Chitty" is more than spectacular (to use the vernacular) and provides lashings of pure, simple fun. But perhaps the amount of people around me (both big and small) fidgeting and chatting is testament to the fact that for all the cash spent on it, this is one show which does not really engage dramatically or fuel the imagination and allow it to fly.

Jonathan Richards


Originally published on

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