Mary Poppins

Apr 30 2016 | By More

★★★★★    Chim chim charming

Festival Theatre: 27 April – 21 May
Review by Martin Gray

Practically perfect in every way, that’s Mary Poppins according to, well, Mary Poppins. She’s not wrong, though. The magical nanny really is rather wonderful.

And as for Cameron Mackintosh’s touring production of Mary Poppins, the show – at the Festival Theate until 21 May –  it’s even better than that.

Playing The Game - Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins. Photo: Johan Persson

Playing The Game – Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins. Photo: Johan Persson

Blown in by the wind to Edwardian London, Mary Poppins arrives to help the Banks family where children Jane and Michael are running amok, mother Winifred is ignored and purposeless and father George too wrapped up in his work to pay any attention to his family.

With good advice, a spoonful of sugar and more than a sprinkling of magic, she’ll help them find their way, assisted by Bert, the local chimney street/pavement painter/whatever he feels like that day.

All the old favourite songs are in this lavish production, from an enchanting Spoonful of Sugar to a singalong Supercalifragilsticexpialidocious which sees the cast not only sounding the letters but spelling them out with their bodies (they’re likely a whiz at the YMCA dance). Even better, when Mary says she’s saying it backwards, she’s actually is saying it backwards, none of your docious-ali-expi-istic-fragil-cali-rupus nonsense! That takes talent, and Zizi Strallen has it in spades.

From the moment she arrives in the familiar frock coat, memories of Julie Andrews go out the window. Or up the chimney. Yes, there are similarities because they’re playing the same character, but Strallen doesn’t go for the tried and tested intonations and song phrasing, she finds her own way, bringing a freshness to the part.


Strallen is a terrific dancer, but her physicality extends to knowing how to use stillness – when Mary Poppins is standing watching from the sidelines, there’s a quiet gravitas to the moment, you know it’s important. She’s also a sharp comic actress, able to get the audience laughing every single time she has Mary Poppins climb a staircase like a brolly-bearing Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - the company. Photo Johan Persson

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – the company. Photo Johan Persson

She plays most of her scenes with the young actors essaying Jane and Michael, who have loads more lines, dancing and sundry bits of business than their contemporaries in other shows. And on press night Jabez Cheeseman and Georgie Hill simply aced it, not just delivering, but feeling their lines, as equal members of the ensemble rather than cute wee mascots. The roles are shared between six sets of ‘siblings’ but I expect the other Michaels and Janes are also rather good.

There’s only one actor playing Bert, Matt Lee, and he’s massively charismatic in the role, part-narrator, part conspirator in Mary Poppins’ bid to sort out the Banks. His best moments come in the Let’s Go Fly a Kite sequence, Jolly Holiday and Step in Time. The last of these is an astonishingly well-drilled song and dance number that starts small, gets bigger and winds up with a theatrical moment you won’t soon forget… and that’s not even the biggest surprise in the show.

There are also wonderful turns from Rebecca Lock and Milo Twomey as the elder Banks, while Wendy Ferguson’s Mrs Brill is a hilarious force of nature. Blair Anderson is a hoot as sissy servant Robertson Ay, Grainne Renihan a touching bird woman and as for Penelope Woodman as Miss Andrew, the Anti-Poppins, she is indeed a Holy Terror.  Miss Andrew’s singing duel with the nicer nanny, Brimstone and Treacle vs A Spoonful of Sugar, is a thrilling moment of musical drama.

balletic choreography

For lovers of dance or just basically semi-clad bodies, there’s fabulous work by Yves Adang as statue-come-to-life Neleus and his stony friends, part of an all-singing, all-dancing cast that light up every big number. The balletic choreography comes courtesy of Matthew Bourne – he’ll go far – and Stephen Mear, and it’s simply joyful.

Jolly Holiday - the ensemble. Photo: Johan Persson

Jolly Holiday – the ensemble. Photo: Johan Persson

Remember that old review about a show being so bad, you leave humming the scenery? Well, this show is a million miles from bad, but the scenery here is so darn good that it does actually deserve a star of its own – the Banks’ home in Cherry Tree Lane unfolds outwards onto the stage like a giant doll’s house and reappears in different forms according to the needs of the story.

It’s just one of the technical aspects of a show which runs ridiculously smoothly considering how much could go wrong, from smashed plates to broken bones. Mary’s magic, for example, comes courtesy of lighting effects by Natasha Katz, while the special effects were developed by Jim Steinmeyer, who’s worked with David Copperfield. See if you can figure out how he makes Willoughby the dog sit atop a glass carriage and chat away…

The Disney movie not being considerate enough to supply adequate songs for a two-hour-plus show, there are some new tunes by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Happily, Practically Perfect, Brimstone and Treacle, Anything Can Happen and the other original numbers sit nicely alongside the Sherman Brothers favourites in a show presented with flair by original director Richard Eyre and tour helmer James Powell.

They’re woven seamlessly into Julian Fellowes’ script, which mixes the Disney classic with PL Travers’ beloved books. The orchestra, headed by Ian Townsend and Steve Moss, delivers the score beautifully, even the most tin-eared of us will be singing away on the way out.

By the time the show gets to the sublime Anything Can Happen – one of the numbers added for the stage show  – you’ll be grinning like a lunatic. Lessons have been learned, lives have been changed and it’s time for Mary Poppins, and you, to fly off into the night. But only one of you will get a standing ovation…

Running time: 2 hours 55 minutes (with one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Wednesday 27 April – Saturday 21 May 2016
Evenings, Tue to Sat: 7.30pm
Matinees, Thurs, Sat (& Wed 18 May): 2.30pm
Sundays: 2pm only.
Details and booking:

Tour website:
Mary Poppins on Twitter: @marypoppins
Mary Poppins on Facebook: marypoppins

Mary Poppins on tour 2016:
27 April – 21 May Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
25 May – 19 June Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
29 June – 30 July Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
03 Aug – 03 Sept Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
08 Sept – 29 Oct Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
02 Nov – 10 Dec Bradford
01274 432 000 Book online
14 Dec 2016 – 14 Jan 2017 Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
Mary Popping arrives at number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Photo Johan Persson

Mary Poppins arrives at number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Photo Johan Persson


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Comments (2)

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  1. Went to see this yesterday and I am more than convinced I will be singing the songs for weeks, poor family. Where did they find Mary Poppins? She was supercala ……. From start to finish she did not let us down, the same applying to everyone else in the cast. Bert and the children, the cook, the statues, can I just say the whole cast as I do not want to leave any of them out. We bought the tickets a year in advance, well worth the wait. Well done Cameron Mackintosh.

  2. Susan Bones says:

    I recently went to watch this show, and i am extremely disappointed! i have been a big fan of Mary Poppins for years i love the film and i thought that the performance would live up to its expectations but it clearly did not. Although i thought the staging was relatively good i thought it could of been brought to life bit more as it was really just a few backdrops and some props. The dancers weren’t as in sync when they were supposed to be performing the supercal.. dance. On a more brighter note the women who played Mary Poppins did her justice and was marvellous at her role, very professional and played the part very well. If anyone is thinking about going to see this i would highly recommend not to as i was very disappointed and i am a very big fan of the film/book.