Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

May 17 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Star car

Festival Theatre: Tue 16 – Sat 20 May 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

The car is, of course, the star in Southern Light Opera’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Festival Theatre all week, but it would be nothing without a tight and committed cast around it.

Faced with having to fill the Festival Theatre while the King’s is dark, SLO have made a major commitment in staging the Sherman brothers musical, based on the much-loved movie. The company has certainly given it loads of choke and gone full throttle in this staging. Mostly, it is a smooth, smooth ride.

Nicola McDonagh, Torya Winters and Louise Freeborn. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

The story of the zany, widowed inventor Caractacus Potts who buys a bashed-up triple grand-prix winner, destined for the scrapheap, for his kids and turns it into a wonderful flying car – while catching the eye of confectionary empire heiress Truly Scrumptious – is pretty true to Ian Fleming’s original children’s book.

This is a musical which needs a solid base before it gets phantasmagorical and goes off into a world of whistling sweets, hairdressing machines, nasty Vulgarian spies, kindly toymakers and dastardly child-catchers, not to forget the bustier-wearing, infantilised, child-hating despots.

On hand to provide just that solid base, SLO are blessed with the magnificent Rory MacLean as Caractacus, the delightful Tanya Williamson as Truly Scrumptious and a couple of young performers who knock even their socks off.

immense vocal prowess

Martha Broderick and Oliver Thomson as Jemima and Jeremy Potts – who double up with Heidi Russell and Sam Gill on alternate nights – provide both immense vocal prowess in their big early number You Two when they gild MacLean’s vocals, and an endearing stage presence.

They keep it up through the whole show, too, ensuring that the iconic title number is given a great telling and finding just the right level when they join Williamson in Truly Scrumptious.

Some of the young company with Rory MacLean. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

In a show which comes with so much history it is great to see the two main adult leads carving out their roles for themselves.

MacLean’s Caractacus isn’t particularly zany, to be honest, but he is certainly a doting parent and his take on the gorgeous Hushabye Mountain reveals real heart, particularly when it turns into a duet with Anna Walton as the voice of the late Mrs Potts, singing from the wings.

Williamson also ensures that Truly is rather more than a one-dimensional love interest. She creates a nicely spiky early relationship with Caracticus, but really comes into her own when the action moves to Vulgaria in Act Two. Her Doll in a Box dance is a tricky thing to pull off, and she does very well indeed.


What of the car, then. First thing to say is that it flies – and does so very convincingly: out over the pit and the front row. It’s a crowd-pleasing effect and is used just enough, and with exactly the right reprise, to ensure it is the memorable part of the evening.

It is slightly less convincing in the simple motoring scenes, however: all wobbly as the Potts family get in and out. A scene on opening night when the offside rear wheel was raised throughout, like a dog cocking its leg, is surely an isolated accident and won’t distract future audiences.

The SLO Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Company in The Vulgarian Town Square. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

One of the attractions of this show for a company of many talents such as SLO, is surely the large number of strong supporting roles. On this front, there are plenty who make the best of their chance to shine.

Probably the largest of these roles – although in some ways incidental agents of plot development – are dastardly Vulgarian spies: Boris and Goran. There is excellent casting here, with the towering Padraic Hamrogue as Boris and diminutive Peter Tomassi as Goran who form a hilarious double act without falling too far into the trap of relying on best-forgotten stereotypes.

sensible reticence

Keith Kilgore brings his strong vocals to the role of Grandpa with a positive Them Three, in what is otherwise a slightly stilted performance. Alan Hunter displays his acting chops as scrap merchant Mr Coggins, reluctant to sell the old banger to Charles Leeson-Payne’s Junkman. A sensible reticence, as Leeson-Payne returns in the Act Two as a superbly vicious Child Catcher.

John Bruce leads the company well through the Toot Sweets scene as Lord Scrumptious, the first time that the company really get to show their moves. There is both eye-catching and sensible choreography here from choreographer Louise Williamson, who knows the abilities of her 16-strong dance troupe in this, a slightly pedestrian Me Ol’ Bamboo and the much more eye-catching Bombie Samba.

Oliver Thomson, Rory MacLean and Martha Broderick. Pic Ryan Buchanan

All roads lead to Vulgaria in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where Gary Gray and Cathy Geddie play it up a treat as the Baron and Baroness Bomburst. And as in so much of this production, they succeed in finding depth in their performances and numbers, notably in an expressive Chu-Chi Face.

If the baddies need a foil and proof that not all Vulgarians are as vulgar as their rulers, it comes in the role of the lovely Toymaker. Scott Walker gives him an honest and earnest telling, but lets MacLean carry the narrative as they discover the lost children in a memorable Teamwork scene, with no less than 46 youngsters on stage and not one out of step.

Director Quintin Young’s staging is pretty straightforward, working with what he has to ensure that all the different elements of the set-piece sweet factory, the dance sequences, the hair cutter and, of course, the car itself are well seen.

It is what he does around them which is most fascinating. At a time when patriotism of the flag-waving variety is so much in evidence, it can hardly be a coincidence that the opening British flag waving scene – a flash-back to the 1910 Grand Prix, won by Chitty – is echoed in the authoritarian Vulgarian Town Square scene which opens Act Two.

Despite the vagaries of working with complicated brought-in props and scenery, the back stage crew have done themselves proud. With a special mention to both Lighting designer James Gow and, in particular, sound designer Paul Smith, who adds a couple of clever touches, but mostly ensures that everyone can be heard clearly.

A big, crowd-pleasing night out, which sees Edinburgh’s oldest amateur company put on a polished and professional production.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes.
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Tue 16 – Sat 20 May 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm (Fri 8pm); Matinee, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies! Pic: Ryan Buchanan


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