REVIEW: Mary Poppins (The Civic)

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth

[Spit-Spot On]

In a time where attending a live theatrical show is undoubtedly a luxury, we all filed into The Civic with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to live in this bubble.

The show began with songs that were immediately familiar to most of us.  We caught ourselves mouthing the lyrics to the songs but very soon stopped to avoid annoying the people around us.

The atmosphere in the room was one of positivity and happiness, uplifting the experience for everyone. And knowing that we were about to witness and support local talent on stage was an added bonus.

Based on P.L Travers’ beloved book series of the same name, the 1964 Mary Poppins Disney film featuring Julie Andrews is probably the most memorable version to date. But nothing compares to seeing this iconic show presented live with the immediacy and warmth of a full stage show.

The stage version, which debuted in the UK in 2004, has been updated to remove some of the movie’s original themes, such as the suffragettes of 1910s London, the original storyline has mostly been kept intact by book writer Julian Fellowes, reincorporating elements from the original books. While the somewhat dated script tended to jar slightly, given its archaic view of parental roles and child rearing, there was no denying that it provided a fascinating snapshot into a [thank goodness!] bygone era. And the addition of a few new numbers by George Stilles and Anthony Drewe blended seamlessly with the well-known classics, so as not to distract from the popular songs we all know and love.

Shaan Kloet was ‘practically perfect’ as the clever, no nonsense Mary Poppins. Her crystal-clear voice made you forget Julie Andrews in an instant as she embodied her lead character. Likewise, the kids that played Jane and Michael Banks (Gabrielle Copley and Lukas Maher) were perfectly cast, exemplified by their positively upbeat, albeit precocious personae. However, while Hamish Mouat put in a competent and professional performance, he wasn’t quite as charming and adorable as the original Bert the chimney sweep played by Dick Van Dyke.

Maria Angela Va’a’s rendition of Mrs Corry, beautifully injected with Jamaican flavour, gave the entire Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number added sparkle making it an absolute tour-de-force. Theresa Wells brought the house down as the overbearing bitch of a nanny Miss Andrew while she instilled fear into the children [and adults] on stage and the audience alike. In addition, her relish and gusto-filled solo performance of Brimstone and Treacle was particularly memorable. Another highlight was the ensemble performance of Step in Time which was exceptionally stirring.

One little gripe was that Mrs Banks’ character was a little too wishy washy. Perhaps Russell Dixon’s direction could have accentuated Mrs Banks’ progression from wallflower to woman of substance more convincingly. Another personal niggle was the brevity of Jane Horder’s beautiful Feed the Birds rendition — one of my favourite and most poignant pieces that left me longing for more.

John Harding’s multifaceted set was undoubtedly a sight to behold. The incredible unfolding houses’ configurations and visual set projections were complemented by Martin Searancke’s lighting design, which gave the production a particularly professional edge.

While the production was an absolute triumph in many aspects it could benefit from more of Jeremy Hinman’s expansive choreographic moments that worked a treat in the ensemble segments.

Mary Poppins is the perfect family favourite to bring audiences back to a high capacity venue such as The Civic. And the historical setting befits this period piece.

While it must have been heartbreaking for the cast and crew when Mary Poppin’s final flight didn’t come to fruition due to opening night technical issues, it was heartening to see how the cast didn’t miss a beat. But none of that mattered – the appreciative audience jumped to their feet giving the performers a well-deserved and sustained standing ovation.

Amici’s production of Mary Poppins is a charming and enchanting wonderland show that will appeal to everyone – young and old.  The perfect ‘Jolly Holiday’ to escape the trials and tribulations of 2020.

Mary Poppins plays The Civic 15 October to 1 November, 2020. 

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Heidi North

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