Theatre Review: BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS – Palace Theatre, Manchester

The cast of Bedknobs and Broomsticks

The cast of BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

With its dazzling effects, accomplished puppetry, catchy score and excellent cast performance, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS is a feast for eyes and ears.

5 out of 5 stars

It’s been 50 years since Disney’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS cast its spell on the big screen. Often unfairly regarded as the poor relation to MARY POPPINS due to its similarities in style and song, this magical musical has taken a good while to make it onto the stage. Thankfully, due to some clever stage work, a shining new cast, and some spellbinding illusions, it was certainly worth the wait.

Set during World War II, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS follows the recently orphaned Rawlins children who are evacuated from wartime London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price. Upon discovering Eglantine is a trainee witch, they join forces to search for a secret spell that will defeat the enemy once and for all. Armed with an enchanted bedknob, a bewitched broomstick and a magical flying bed, the four fly in search of Professor Emelius Browne, who can help them cast the spell, encountering a series of adventures along the way.

With its dazzling effects, accomplished puppetry, catchy score, and excellent cast performance, Disney’s stage adaptation of BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS is just as good, if not better, than its screen counterpart.

Brian Hill’s book brings a tighter narrative arc and fuller character backstories to the much-loved story whilst retaining the eccentricities and key moments we all know and love. New musical numbers by Neil Bartram also capture the brisk jollity of the Sherman brothers’ originals whilst helping to push the story along.

The cast of BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS.

The cast of BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Candice Edmunds’ direction makes for a dazzling start, well-served by her co-director’s Jamie Harrison’s visually stunning and artful set design, which creates a cradle for the action and aids the show’s tricks and illusions.

From the opening evacuation sequence, and the energetic dance number in PORTOBELLO ROAD, to the visually stunning THE BEAUTIFUL BRINY with its blue sequinned costumes by Gabriella Slade, and chorus of fish puppets, this production is a feast for eyes and ears.

Dianne Pilkington is a delight as Eglantine Price, bringing the essence of Angela Lansbury’s character to life on stage while adding her own individual touches to it. Her beautiful vocals give the celebrated Sherman Brothers’ songs full value, with her performance of A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION whilst learning to fly on a broomstick stands out as a highlight.

As Emelius Browne, Charles Brunton plays up the silliness of the character, bringing his own brand of unique wizardry to the role. Aided by an uncanny resemblance to David Tomlinson, his portrayal is both engaging and delightful.

There’s good work from the three children, led by Conor O’Hara as the oldest child Charlie, who takes on much of the legwork. While O’Hara struggles to maintain credibility as a thirteen-year-old, he finds his character well, driving forward a lot of the plot. His musical number NEGOTIALITY is both cheeky and likeable.

Dianne Pilkington in BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS.

Dianne Pilkington in BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Of course, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS is all about the magic, and illusions designer Jamie Harrison certainly doesn’t disappoint. The flying bed is a delight to watch with its glowing amber frame, earning a well-deserved round of applause when it takes off the first time.

There’s also a refreshing absence of CGI, the production relying on good old puppetry and talent to transport you into a world of fantasy. The show is bursting with magical tricks as cast members appear magically out of a cloud of smoke, and characters turn magically into animals aided by Kenneth MacLeod’s puppet design, which is both pleasing and creative.

Fans of the film will notice that the ending has been altered, which frames the show in a different way, but this doesn’t hinder its charm or appeal.

In fact, there’s nothing to dislike here, this delightful, skilful, and magical tale enchanting fans of all ages. Bob along and buy yourself a ticket – you won’t regret it.

BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, until 24 October 2021