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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 04:41 GMT 05:41 UK
Magic of childhood recaptured
Richard O'Brien
Richard O'Brien in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
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By Tim Masters
at the London Palladium
line

One of the most treasured possessions in my childhood toy cupboard was a Corgi model of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

A masterpiece of 60s memorabilia, its red and yellow wings sprung out at the flick of a switch. It must be worth a fortune these days.

So does the lavish new stage production featuring Ian Fleming's famous flying car manage to capture the elusive magic of childhood?

The answer is a categorical yes - with wings on. In fact, you come out of the London Palladium feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve.

'Assault on the senses'

Right from the word go, this show, directed by Adrian Noble, launches a massive assault on the senses.

There is so much going on that the cast of dozens seems like hundreds.

Newcomer Emma Williams is Truly Scrumptious
And as each new piece of scenery glides into view there is a collective intake of breath at the sheer opulence of it all.

As storylines go it is basic goodies versus baddies fare. And Noble pulls out all the pantomime stops.

There's a handsome hero looking for love (hooray!), a beautiful heroine (whoah!), a couple of comical villains with dodgy foreign accents (boo!) and the utterly evil Child Catcher (hiss!).

Although the cast is heavily populated with ragamuffin children - and several dogs - the show manages not to succumb to sentimentality and instead delivers spectacle in spades.

As anyone who grew up with the film will tell you, the Child Catcher is a nightmare figure.

And now it's the turn of Richard "Rocky Horror" O'Brien to terrify a new generation, stalking around the stage like Nosferatu with a bad comb-over.

Michael Ball in disguise as a toy clown

O'Brien is just one of an impressive cast: Michael Ball is a likeable Caractacus Potts, the inventor extraordinaire who is struggling to raise his two kids with the help of their eccentric Grandpa (Anton Rodgers).

Rodgers steals many of the comic scenes, along with Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe as the colourful despots of Vulgaria, Baron and Baroness Bomburst.

Blessed, in classic BlackAdder mode, is as hilarious and over-the-top as ever.

Cast in this ocean of seasoned talent, West End newcomer Emma Williams manages to keep her head well above water as Truly Scrumptious.

Cliff-hanger ending

Of course the car is the real star of the show - and it is mercifully not overused. There are times during the second act that you begin to wonder where it has gone.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's arrival on stage is breathtaking. And at the cliff-hanger ending to the first half, even though you know it is going to sprout wings, there is still a tingling down the spine.

Just how this production manages to make the car swoop over the stalls is pure mystery.

There's no mystery though about what happened to my beloved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the toy cupboard.

I gave it away to a jumble sale, where it would have sold for 10p. If anyone bought it - can I please have it back?

See also:

16 Apr 02 | Showbiz
Stage Chitty goes with a bang
16 Apr 02 | Showbiz
The Chitty legend
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