Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (4 stars)

In with a bang

A forty-year old children’s fable by Ian Fleming has an enduring appeal. Now, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the subject of a popular stage production. Kelly Apter goes along.

It will come as no surprise to learn that for director, Adrian Noble the starting point for this stage musical was the film. The original Chitty got so much right, it’s hard to imagine anyone changing it for the better. The film had it all - love, intrigue, humour, children, animals and the mother of all gadgets, Chitty herself. All of which survive intact in this dazzling stage musical, which has set up residence in Edinburgh for the next three months.

Chitty fever has hit the capital in a way few other shows could manage. A replica car stands proudly down at Ocean Terminal, providing photo opportunities for young and old. A blanket coverage of posters announce the great car’s arrival in town, and the show is virtually sold out despite no child concessions before January. And why? Because Chitty is more than just a car, more than just a show even - it’s part of our childhood, and for two hours in the Playhouse, we’re all fodder for the Child Catcher.

As you would expect from a musical of this scale, the sets are fantastic. A vast metal windmill spins in the background of the Potts’ family home, with a large spiral staircase leading to the kids’ bedroom. Likewise, at the Scrumptious factory, huge copper sweet boilers tower over the candy-stripe costumed dancers. But of course, Chitty herself is the main attraction. Particularly when she spreads her wings and flies up into the air, tipping her occupants perilously from side to side. Headlights blazing, against a starry night backdrop, the effect is amazing.

It’s a lot for the cast to live up to, being mere mortals in the face of such mechanical genius. Yet they do so admirably, and surprisingly you don’t miss the original actors from the film. Gregor Fisher is every inch the genial old grandpa, an ex-military man with half his brain still back in India with the regiment. Joe McFadden is a young but enthusiastic Caractacus Potts, with a surprisingly strong singing voice. Truly Scrumptious is just that, but with a feisty edge that pulls no punches. The kids are suitably adorable, as are the fluffy pooches which invade the stage at the end of ‘Toot Sweet’. While the Child Catcher has been given a couple of extra twists that keep you on your toes, and Vulgarian duo Boris and Goran are funnier than ever.

Director Noble comes to Chitty after 15 years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, adding a touch of class to the project. And Dana Broccoli, wife of film producer Albert, helped put the show together prior to her death last year. In short, the show has been a labour of love which honours, but doesn’t try to replicate, the film. All but one of the original songs has been left in, with a couple of new numbers added including the cracking ‘Teamwork’ by the kiddies hiding out in the sewer.

Watching Chitty on DVD from the comfort of your living room is one thing, but sitting in the 3000 seater Playhouse with the car live onstage renders you part of a palpable collective excitement. Ian Fleming may have gone on to use some amazing gadgetry with Bond, but when he wrote the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang he did more than invent a car - he created an icon of childhood.

Edinburgh Playhouse until Sat 24 Feb

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