Bedknobs and Broomsticks hits the Southampton stage

When the three orphaned Rawlins children are evacuated from wartime London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, they have no idea what adventures lie ahead.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks, photo Johan Persson
Bedknobs and Broomsticks, photo Johan Persson

Upon discovering Eglantine to be a trainee witch, they join forces to search for a secret spell that will defeat the enemy once and for all…

The show is Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and it’s coming to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre from January 11-16.

Dianne Pilkington stepped into the role of Miss Price when the tour started in August. The response has been terrific: “It was a film that so many people loved. So many people remember watching it with their families and it is the kind of film that appeals to young people and also to grown-ups. It is about not growing up and about maintaining your belief as a child in magic. I think that is something that resonates with everybody. And I think it is also very much about childhood trauma, the way that children process traumatic events which is of course very pertinent right now. And it is also about the healing power of family and again that’s very pertinent at the moment. It is about family healing whether that is the traditional family or another grouping which becomes a family.

“In the film the children have been evacuated out of London which must have been a terrifying experience. Just imagine that. You are suddenly having to live with people that you had never met and some of those people, we know, were not very nice. But we have added a layer that the children have been orphaned in this version and that’s the trauma that they are living with. The film is an eccentric little film and I think that eccentricity really makes it as a film, as a kind of British oddity. It is pretty crazy this story about an anti-fascist witch who decides to fight the Nazis with the help of a spell that she can’t find so she enchants a bed! That’s the Angela Lansbury part in the film and I am a huge fan of Angela Lansbury.”

It’s also the part that Diane is playing: “I am not trying to emulate Angela Lansbury in anyway. What I have done is try to look back at the book as well as the film. Actually the book is perhaps slightly darker than the film and doesn’t have the same storyline as the film does, but our storyline follows the film very closely. But I’ve looked a lot at the way she was portrayed in the book and she is quite scary. The costume designer has made me look very elegant and I really wanted to look at the character through the eyes of the children, to see her as slightly scary, a woman who doesn’t even like children. That’s the perspective we have taken. She is still slightly dotty, and it works brilliantly on the stage.”

This wasn’t a part Diane was playing pre-pandemic: “I left my previous show a month before the pandemic hit and from my perspective, I was not looking to be doing a show at that moment. I was just wanting to take a little bit of time to be with my little boy but none of us expected it to be so long. They had been talking about the show for eight years so it was a massive frustration for them when the pandemic hit. But I think actually it was always planned for exactly when it did start which was August this year. It meant that we came to it fresh and new which is wonderful but it did also mean that none of us had been on the stage for about 18 months. We all got through it together.

“It was interesting. I had never had that length of break. I’ve been lucky never to have had a break of more than four months and I think the longest I had was when I was pregnant. But to be in a theatre for the first time after all that time was very daunting. It was also very exciting and really wonderful because it was a bit like doing your first job. There was a little bit of you that was thinking people have paid good money to see this and you want to make it really precious because it is so precious to other people. We have held it really close and we have managed her keep it very special, I think.”