Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

May 30 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆  High-flying

Playhouse: Tue 28 May – Sat 1 June 2024
Review by Martin Gray

The classic children’s story of the flying car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, swoops down to the Playhouse this week to delight audiences anew.

The musical is based on Ian Fleming’s book in which a widowed inventor Caracticus Potts, his two cute kids, and potential new love Truly Scrumptious must rescue his military dad and protect their flying car from the Vulgarians led by Baron Bomburst.

Adam Garcia and Company. Me Ol’ Bamboo. Pic: Paul Coltas

Filmed in 1968 and a staple of bank holiday TV viewing, the big question is how to freshen the story up for the stage… With a few new songs and a cracking cast and production, that’s how.

The musical, which debuted in London in 2002 and proved a massive hit, suffers slightly from making Chitty’s reveal as a flying machine the climax of the first act. There are longeurs as we wait for the inevitable moment the gorgeous, golden creation takes to the air.

The opening number in particular, telling the story of the racing car which eventually becomes Chitty, is a bit of a guddle so far as getting the facts across is concerned, there’s too much cross-singing at speed. And while Me Ol’ Bamboo is a cracking dance number, it’s not terribly clear that this is Caractacus’ way of escaping the annoyed potential purchaser of his new haircutting machine rather than a bit of fun fare at the funfair.

warmth and charm

Still, there’s bags of warmth and charm in the interactions of core cast members. West End legend Adam Garcia is an athletic, earnest Caractacus and Ellie Nunn is jolly-hockey-sticks-perfection as Truly Scrumptious. Louis Wilkins and Isabella Manning as the young Potts, Jeremy and Jemima, are cute without being too precocious.

Emmerdale veteran Liam Fox as Grandpa Potts gets to show he’s more than an excellent dramatic turn. The players give it their all in such classic numbers as the twee Toot Sweets, poignant Hushaby Mountain and of course, that sing-along title number.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in action. Pic: Paul Coltas

While it’s not quite true that the devil has all the best tunes here, the villainous Vulgarians – Hadrian Delacey (a hoot as Baron Bomburst) and Bibi Jay (The Baroness, dying to jump her walrus-faced hubbie’s bones) have a couple of excellent numbers in the cute Chu-Chi-Face and camp, Copacabana-tastic Bombie Samba.

As spies Boris and Goran, Adam Stafford and Michael Joseph bring a touch of music hall to the show, with daft accents, knockabout fun and the excellent song Think Vulgar/Act English. I could watch a whole spin-off show starring the Vulgarians if these actors and stage adaptor Jeremy Sams, who comes up with some lovely lines, are let loose.

Semi-sentient roadster aside, the most unforgettable character from the Chitty film is The Childcatcher, who didn’t feature in the original tale but was added by film scriptwriter Road Dahl and director Ken Hughes. Played by Australian ballet star Robert Helpmann, he’s a nightmarish figure, and one that can be a tad problematic.

more panto witch than bogeyman

This touring production is the first to cast women in the role, with Elaine C Smith looking after Scotland and EastEnders villain Charlie Brooks handling the non-Scottish dates. While Smith is very capable of playing a spider-figure determined to drag children to their doom, she happily dials it down, giving us more panto witch than bogeyman.

Elaine C Smith as The Childcatcher. Pic: Danny Kaan

There’s menace, but younger members of the audience aren’t going to lose too much sleep. As ever, Smith delivers a pitch perfect performance, never more so than when giving us Kiddy-Widdy-Winkies, a statement of intent with a distinctive Kurt Weill vibe.

The ensemble members are brilliant, moving the story along with enough pep to power a fleet of flying cars, and it’s great to see them get a chance to sing individually alongside Grandpa Potts in The Roses of Success.


There’s also a bunch of children who have escaped The Childcatcher with the aid of the Toymaker – John Macaulay, rocking the lederhosen – and they’re terrific, well drilled but never robotic. Credit, then, to choreographer Karen Bruce and the directors of this pacey production, original helmsman Thom Southerland and resident Simon Greiff.

Musical director Jessica Viner and her orchestra bring the music of the Sherman Brothers, orchestrated by Chris Walker, to wonderful life, something that’s especially appreciated in the week Richard Sherman died (brother Robert predeceased him in 2012).

Adam Garcia, Ayrton English, Jasmine Nyenya and Ellie Nunn. Pic: Paul Coltas

The sets of Morgan Large are splendid, none more so than the Vulgaria at night backdrop which drips with Universal horror. There is a wee blip in that a sliver of the lovely starry, starry night painting against which Chitty flies went missing between acts, giving us a view of wandering production members as an oblivious Caractacus and co fly across the English Channel, but that’s all part of the fun of live theatre.

Large is also behind the costumes, which nicely evoke the 1910 period and look comfy on the cast – the Vulgarian citizens look especially wonderful in their Hollywood MittelEuropean peaked, feathered hats. And a shout out to Jessica Hart who handles the wigs and hair, of which there’s a lot to look after here… The Roses of Success alone involves a Yeti-load of yak strands, or whatever.


Occasionally, mini-models representing Chitty and the Baron’s blimp cross the stage, complete with tiny voices. It’s hilarious, pure Michael Bentine’s Potty Time (ask your parents).

A couple of encores led to a standing ovation from the packed house when All Edinburgh Theatre saw the show. Go along and you’ll understand why: The car’s the star, but the show’s all-pro.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval)
Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tue 28 May – Sat 1 June 2024.
Evening: 7pm; Wed, Sat: 2pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Glasgow King’s, 297 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JN
Tue 27 Aug – Sun 8 Sept 2024
Tue – Sat: 7pm; Wed, Sat, Sun: 2pm.

Tickets and details. Book here.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Your comments