‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (The Magical Car)’ was a three-volume, children’s novel published 51 years ago this week. Ian Fleming wrote the tale for his son Caspar. Fleming having been most famous for his James Bond books.
The original ‘Chitty Bang Bang’ was an aero-engined, racing car, built by Count Louis Zborowski from an old Zeppelin airship in 1920 at Higham Park, the land belonging to Ian’s father, Robert Fleming. This inspired Fleming to write the story, which was then turned into a film in 1968, with Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes writing the script for the Bond film producer, Cubby Broccoli.
The book was adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams. This musical, scored by the legendary Sherman Brothers, includes half a dozen instantly recognisable and enchanting songs. It was the longest running show ever at the London Palladium, taking in over £70 million in its three and a half year run.
Six versions of the car were built for the film; however, it was the stage production car that still holds the record for the most expensive stage prop ever. Auctioned in 2011, Chitty was expected to fetch $1–2 million, but was sold to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ film director, Sir Peter Jackson for a mere $805,000.
The ‘Stray Cats Theatre Company’ and the ‘Mandurah Performing Arts Centre’ are presenting this outstanding stage production for four days only. It can be seen at the Boardwalk Theatre, Ormsby Terrace in Mandurah. The two and a half hour shows are on each night – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – at 7.30, with matinees at 2.00 pm on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th October.
Duncan Anderson, Wayne Gale, Peter Francis, Alan White, Daniel Corbishley built the spectacular sets, from sweet machines to a dunny – complete with massive, superbly painted backcloths (supervised by Bronwyn White). Sheryl Gale collected the numerous antique props required.
The stage managers, Corina Herbert, Rach Hayter and Angus Young had their exceptionally busy teams working efficiently, quickly and silently. Poor stage management would have meant the pace dropping off and a subsequent loss of the ‘magic’. The advanced and inventive lighting design was by Karen Francis, with the spotlights operated by Suzy Wiseman, Ruby Liddlelow, and Fiona Kennedy.
Under the supervision of their teacher, Miss Phillips (Kristie Hennessy), the eight-year-old twins, Jeremy (Sebastian Cruse) and Jemima Potts (Marissa Pereira) are looking around Mr Coggins’ (Jayden Lyon) garage backyard when they find the wreck of a British Grand Prix winner. As they play on it, the local scrap metal man (Oliver Clare) offers Mr Coggins 30/- for it. The children are sure that they can get either their widower father, an eccentric inventor and Naval Commander, Caractacus Potts (Jon Lambert) or their Grandpa Potts (Peter Sydney-Smith) to buy it and restore it.
Lurking in the background is a Laurel and Hardy-like couple of incompetent spies, Boris (Daniel R. Nixon) and Goran (Nicholas Gaynor). They have been sent to England to buy or steal this car, by their Bulgarian boss Baron Bomburst (Joshua Towns), and his miserable wife, Baroness Bomburst (Kim Moore).
However, the Potts family are poor and cannot afford the 30 shillings. A lady passes the group on her three-wheeled motor bike (thanks to Mandurah Scooters) and as it is out-of-tune, Professor Caractacus repairs it for her. The beautiful woman is Truly Scrumptious (Kristie Gray), who on hearing of Caractacus’ financial plight, suggests he should invent a new type of lolly to show Violet (Jo Bickford) and then sell the idea to the local sweet factory that belongs to her wealthy father, Lord Scrumptious (actor ?).
Eventually Caractacus raises the money from a local turkey farmer (Bailey Bridgman-Peters) and the family go to the beach in Chitty to celebrate, but fly much further. After a long flight in Chitty, the Potts family arrive in Bulgaria. When the Baroness, who hates children, hears of their arrival, she employs a Child Catcher (Scott Hansen) to kidnap Jeremy and Jemima. The Baron, who is still a child at heart, has special toys made for him by the royal Toymaker (Rory Ellis). This toymaker confides in Grandpa Potts that there are hundreds of children hiding in the sewers below the city. The children have Toby (Angus Thomson), Greta (Maren Gosby) and Susan (Nicole Cook) looking after them and fighting for their welfare.
Can the Potts family save the day? Is there romance in the air?
Under Musical director David Hicks, assisted by conductor, Vanitha Hart, the orchestra were obviously in their element with such well-known songs as ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, ‘Toot Sweets’ and ‘Truly Scrumptious’. With the help of Rhiannon Francis, the orchestra also created an exciting array of sound effects. The musicians were:- Woodwind players Bec Moroney, Luis Santos, Blake Howieson; Brass – Sascha Todhunter, Harry Josland, Ben Lim, Ned Holland; Double bass – Joshua Cusack; Percussion – Mark Beasy, Sam Bradbury and Keyboard – David Hicks and Mia Brine. The balance of the orchestra was perfect, without any individual instrument overpowering the others.
The dance sequences, choreographed by Ashleigh Riley and Megan Doohan, covered simple styles such as Grandpa Potts swaggering up and down as he sings ‘Posh’, through to the sedate Bulgarian Ball scene and the frenzied Rumba. In every routine the whole ensemble were perfectly in step. The footwork in ‘Me ‘Ol Bam-Boo’ and the arm movements for every song were complex and demanding, and yet I can honestly say that not a single person was out of step or daydreaming. Great work by the choreographers and the whole cast.
Vocal director Kristie Gray has a beautiful and powerful voice, but getting 60 raw recruits to perform well must have been a real challenge for her. The chorus performed magnificently. The Potts family and Truly were in perfect tune and pitch; the final song of the first Act was performed in Chitty as it rose up and tilted, and yet the singers still managed to belt out the number without a single nervous flicker. True professionalism.
The 20-sided, full colour, A4-sized programme, was only $5 and so the audience bought a few copies each for those proud relatives that could not make the show. Well done Kristie Hennessy, Jon Lambert, Rhiannon Francis and Jayden Lyon for the artistic creation.
With 60 performers on stage at a time, the costumiers (Gaynor Cook, Catherine O’Brien, Pat Francis, Kerry Tarbuck, Lisa Clubley, Lisa Hubbard, Karen Chivers, Linda Lowry, Cathy Wainwright, Michaelia Bertram-Hulme and Ashleigh Riley) certainly had their work cut out. The factory workers uniforms, the rumba skirts, the exotic ‘Me ‘Ol Bam-Boo’, the filthy street kids in the sewers, every scene had immaculate design and costume production. Not a single outfit was basic, the trimmings and creative thought was first class.
The car is obviously the centrepiece of the whole tale, and so it was essential that it should be special, stunning and of quality – poor Peter Sydney-Smith (Grandpa Potts) was given the task of designing and building the machine. This was not going to be a cheap project for the producers, but with the generous help of Mandurah Canvas, Battery World and Mandurah Auto Performance, all of the parts from the old-fashioned lamps to the Dickie Seat, the hydraulic hoses and the numerous trims, the car took shape. In the end the car could drive onto the stage, rise from the floor carrying four people, the tyres tilt at 90 degrees, spread its wings, tilt and tip at incredible angles. With the smoke effect under the chassis, the car was well above the clouds. The massive cheer from the audience showed their appreciation for all of the work.
A community show that could leave the professionals embarrassed. Absolute quality.
Do not miss this latest fantastic, magical, family fun show from multi-talented director Karen Francis.