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18th March 2022

‘Magic truly is real’ – Bedknobs and Broomsticks at The Lowry

Brummie/Cockney accents, excellent puppetry and a truly magical bed – Emily Turvey reviews the stage adaptation of Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Lowry, which last played in Manchester mere months ago and stars Dianne Pilkington in the lead role
‘Magic truly is real’ – Bedknobs and Broomsticks at The Lowry
Photo: Johan Persson.

The stage adaptation of the Disney classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks has landed at the Lowry. A wonderful, musical affair, you’ll be sure to leave this show with a magical feeling. 

Set in wartime Britain, the story follows the three orphaned Rawlins children as they are evacuated and sent to live with apprentice witch Eglantine Price. With the help of a magical bed knob and an enchanted bed, they soon embark on a magical adventure, to London and then beyond!

Diane Pilkington is superbly cast in the lead role of Eglantine Price. It is no easy feat to step into a role that the iconic Angela Lansbury so famously played, but Pilkington did a wonderful job. She brings her own take and dimension to the character, and she is a joy to watch. 

Alongside her, Charles Brunton stars as Professor Browne and Conor O’Hara as Charlie. The cast were well suited, and by the end of the production, you are certainly willing for this somewhat dysfunctional family unit to work out. The two younger children playing Paul and Carrie particularly did an incredible job. It was, however, interesting that the actors that played Carrie and Charlie were cast with quite such an age difference. I think it would have arguably been more valuable to spread some of Charlie’s role across the two eldest children and make the Rawlins unit feel a little bit more cohesive. 

More cohesion could have also been gained from the accents, which were directly inspired by the 1971 film. Whilst Pilkington nails the plumb-y, wartime, British RP accent the rest of the cast (such as the children) are left with what I presume to be a wartime, cockney accent. This unfortunately overshoots the mark, at times sounding slightly Brummie. 

The supporting cast and ensemble also deserve significant credit as both a chorus and living set. I had some doubts at the start about whether their presence in highly choreographed scene transitions could be a distraction, but their charm and humour won me over and very soon they seemed to seamlessly fit within the show, albeit, I think part of the magic is how quickly they are able to have so many costume changes. Their use of puppetry is also particularly impressive and executed perfectly.

Special mention should go to Jacqui DuBois as Mrs Hobday. She brings a vibrancy to the stage in her role and also some of the few comedic moments. If anything, I would have liked to have seen more of her, and have had some of this comedy carried more consistently through the narrative. 

If you are unsure about how a large scale, Disney classic is going to be transported onto stage, you need not worry. The staging was incredibly done and really allowed the production to be dynamic and immersive, as at least 10 different locations were effectively and convincingly translated onto stage. Portobello Road particularly stood out for how the cast and staging were able to immerse you in a bustling 1940s London market. 

Crucially, however, it was the magic that truly elevated this. The flying bed and broomstick will leave you baffled as they fly through windows, and over and under both props and people. I could not work it out and had to leave with the simple conclusion that magic truly is real. The impressive feats of stage magic were contrasted with a set and prop design reminiscent of a life-size pop-up book, with water-colour illustrations and 2D aspects. The choice to steer away from realism in the set only served to make the seamlessness of the flying bed and broom all the more impressive.

It was also wonderful to see the Sherman Brothers’ soundtrack brought to life on stage. However, if you are attending with the full anticipation that this is a musical to rival Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King, you might have to lower your expectations. Although largely well performed by the actors, it doesn’t compare to the energy and heart of the original soundtrack from the film. I think it is this element that largely sets the film and stage production apart. 

Yet still, if you are looking for a magical, fun production that fulfils all of Disney’s wonderful escapism on stage, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is certainly the production for you. Dynamic, immersive and truly magical, it was a delight to see this show and bob along to some Disney classics.

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