Review – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Jon Robyns as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. Photograph: Alastair Muir

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Based on the MGM motion picture
Directed by James Brining


Reviewer: Sam Chipman

As a vast number of theatre’s around the country announced annual pantomimes as their seasonal offering, West Yorkshire Playhouse decided to swim against the tide and produce the musical version of the family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – what some may have called a risk, but one which seems likely to be an unprecedented success, both in Yorkshire and around the country on its subsequent tour.

Ian Flemming’s second most notable creation, was released in 1968 starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. It took over thirty years to reach the stage, opening in the West End in 2002 starring Michael Ball and Emma Williams: the flying Chitty car holds the Guinness World Record as the most expensive stage prop, costing £750,000. 

James Brining’s direction brings a sense of vulnerability to the Potts family, and a melancholy the mother’s death has caused that the film does not capture. This lays the foundations perfectly, and makes the story all the more euphoric and heartbreaking. The video design by Simon Wainwright is at times mesmerising, this combined with Simon Higlett’s clever set design and vibrant costumes, and Stephen Mear’s electrifyingly sharp choreography makes for a real spectacle.

Jon Robyns plays the inventor and father Caractacus Potts, whose use of wild adventures is used as distraction to hide the pain that the death of the children’s mother has left behind. He is affable, warm and charming – easy to see why Truly would fall for him, although if you are in doubt there is a song that clarifies this. Amy Griffiths is perfect in the role of Truly, sweet as candy and silky voiced – the pair play off each other wonderfully, bringing a real heartwarming element to the otherwise rather ludicrous plotline. The children, given the huge task of holding the show together, perform sensitively and altogether remarkably.

There are some fine performances from the rest of the cast; Tamsin Carol and Don Gallagher play the “Vulgar” villians with gusto, Sam Harrison and Scott Paige, as Boris and Goran the spies, give us a bombastic comedic turn which feels like something right out of a Mel Brooks production, and Stephen Matthews Childcatcher is truly disconcerting. It couldn’t be left without mentioning Andy Hockley who is marvellous as aimiable  as Gramdpa Potts.

Teamwork, a number composed especially for the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang best sums up this production. A real treat that comes together seamlessly, it undoubtedly appeals to the imaginations of the many children in the audience.

A festive theatrical highlight of the highest calibre. Not to be missed – truly scrumptious.

Runs until 30th January 2016, and then touring.