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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (King's Theatre Glasgow)

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

When you look up Bedknobs and Broomsticks on the Shop Disney website, a sad cartoon character comes up to tell you they have no results. The 1971 film that blended animation with live-action performances tells the story of three evacuees who move in with a witch and go on a journey to find a lost spell. It is one of the Disney canon that has not received as much love as the years have gone by. Whatever the reason, it creates an opportunity to take the best parts from the film and build on it without any fear of purist Disney fans in the audience.

And it’s an opportunity they take with both hands. This is a musical that embraces the possibilities of the stage and justifies itself beyond comparison to the film; beds fly, animals speak, and shirts waltz around of their own accord. We watch as the children’s family home is bombed and they are moved from place to place before finally arriving in a local museum waiting to be picked up by the mysterious Mrs Price (Dianne Pilkington). The sequence is so detailed and dynamic it makes the audience feel as though they have travelled halfway across the country themselves. The same creativity and pace continue unabated throughout the performances. Often it works in the show's favour; condensing scenes to their essence which makes for consistent and diverse storytelling. But even so, the pace can sometimes come off as frantic and leaves the audience reeling.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Given the speed of the show, its young stars (Jasper Hawes and Izzabella Buckwell) rise to the occasion in the roles of Paul and Carrie. Their older brother Charlie (Conor O’Hara) is rather less endearing. His cockney accent often borders on the ridiculous, and his character’s bounciness and self-assuredness become grating, but this speaks more to how his character was written and directed than O’Hara’s performance itself. But for the most part, the children are as much along for the ride as the audience are, with the real attention placed on Mrs Price and her former magic professor/suitor Emelius Browne (Charles Brunton). Pilkington is driven and dignified in the role, while Brunton performs like a clumsy, broke uncle-like figure. Together their chemistry is surprisingly effective, particularly as it blossoms during “The Beautiful Briny”, each as shy as the other.

It’s one of the strongest numbers in the show, with flickering and glimmering fish bobbing around the human characters. In fact, any time an animal is on stage it is a cause for celebration; the expressive puppetry and pitch-perfect vocal performances by the ensemble cast bring them to life. It’s a reminder that theatre needn’t be realistic to be enchanting. Even when they are not speaking on behalf of an ostrich or a bear, this is an ensemble that does anything but blend into the background; their coordination and vocal performances are a wonder to behold.

Even so, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is not without fault. Many of the new songs, written by Neil Bartram, seem to follow a predictable pattern, and add little to the characterisation or plot. Where the numbers really shine is where Bartram has added to the originals, adding thoughtful touches that fit so seamlessly they make you question whether they weren’t from the original film after all.

For fans of the film, the twist ending may come as a surprise. But much like the rest of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, this is a musical that contains itself superbly; every thread is tied, every theme is addressed. The sorrow of lost childhood and the fear of war is never truly erased; throughout the performance, the ruins of their childhood home haunt the stage. But watching the characters carve out a little joy for themselves is an inspiring and heart-warming experience. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd:

I thought it was very good.

I liked when the shoes and that were dancing around.


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