Bedknobs and Broomsticks on stage recaptures much of the magic of the film

Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, January 11-16.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Bedknobs and Broomsticks

The film of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, all those years ago, occupies a very special place in the childhood memories of many millions of us.

Intriguing then to see the story relaunched as a stage musical – and great to see it’s been done so very much in keeping with the feel of the times in which we first enjoyed it.

Yes, there are some terrific special effects as boots and costumes, and not least a bed, come to life; but a lot of the staging is (presumably) deliberately old-fashioned, with endless roll-on-roll-off props, hand-held passing clouds and fishes on sticks.

And there’s something beautifully authentic too about the central performance that Dianne Pilkington delivers as Miss Eglantine Price, the apprentice witch who finds herself reluctantly lumbered with three evacuees (and orphans too) from London in the depths of the war.

Eglantine is on her own patriotic mission – if only she can get the spells right. And at first she’s got little time for the pesky, rather spikey children foisted upon her… until, of course, they each learn the lessons that only each other can teach them.

With Charles Brunton as Emelius Browne in the mix, there is romance too… and threat as well from an enemy they must all head off, once they’ve had a few adventures along the way and truly learnt the lessons of togetherness.

It’s a magical tale and it’s offered up with plenty of magical performances from a strong cast.

But the disappointment perhaps is in the songs. Two are outstanding – memorable songs which stay with you.

As for the rest… Well, given that the Sherman Brothers also gave us Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it’s fair to say that they dipped out a bit with this one. Several numbers (however well they are choreographed) are little more than padding – and that’s where the magic dissipates just a touch.

The magic returns, though, strongly at the end as the musical turns itself on its head – for a pitched battle and a twist and a few turns more.

Good fun, very nicely performed, but it’s not quite among musical theatre’s finest moments.

Maybe you’ll enjoy more it if you like puppetry. Stage puppetry is quite simply one of those things that you either like or you don’t – and there’s rather a lot of it at the start of the second half.