Bristol Hippodrome


Mary Poppins - November 2015


Something superb about Mary


Mary Poppins is a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical playing until the end of November at the Bristol Hippodrome.

The show which is made out of sugar and spice and all things nice and is one of the best family productions I have ever seen.

Flying in on the east wind and hanging from her trademark black umbrella with parrot handle Mary Poppins arrives at number 17 Cherry Tree Lane to bring order to the dysfunctional Banks family.

With a stay-at-home mother and a working-all-hours father the children have made short shrift of a succession of nannies.

This is Victorian England where children are seen and not heard.

Former nannies were fond of dosing the Banks children dollops of a noxious green ‘treacle and brimstone’ tonic so it is no wonder they aren’t very amiable in the beginning.

But Mary Poppins dispenses fairness and fun in equal measures with a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

This imaginative and energetic show is full of magical moments with none of the nasty undertones of some gruesome fairytales of the Grimm Brothers ilk.

It was a marvellous mixture of Hansel and Gretel (Mr Bank’s old nanny has a Germanic accent); Oliver! (London street scenes); Nanny McPhee (comings and goings); Peter Pan (nursery and flying); and Doctor Doolittle (talking to animals) with no warts and not a naughty step in sight.

West End star Zizi Strallen is Mary Poppins and with pretty doll-like pink cheeks and cut glass diction to match her nonsense approach she is more than ‘practically perfect’.

Zizi comes from a famous theatrical family and her aunt is Bonnie Langford who appeared at the Bristol Hippodrome in Working 9 to 5 back in March 2013.

Australian song and dance man Matt Lee is marvellous as chimney sweep Bert and hold your breath when he ‘walks’ all round the front of stage – floor, sides, top.

The man with dreams is gullible dad George Banks who is played by Shakespearian actor Milo Twomey – you just want to give him a hug and let him fly a kite.

Versatile performer Rebecca Lock who reminded me of a young Joan Plowright is the mother Winifred Banks whose past as a former actress counts against her in this class-riddled society.

Michael and Jane Banks were played by Ruby McGivern, aged 12, and Colby Mulgrew, 10.

Colby who has some of the best one-liners and facial expressions actually gets to swear on stage!

Both the children were wonderful – real super troupers who maintained the frenzied pace.

Film and soap star Penelope Woodman plays the tyrannical Miss Andrew who as nanny to young Mr Banks she almost succeeded in stunting his emotional development.

Best described as ‘she looks like something that would eat its young’ she is suitably formidable.

Stage actress Wendy Ferguson plays Mrs Brill the bossy cook whose doppelgänger appeared in Upstairs Downstairs.

She can’t bake a cake and her comeuppance is when the kitchen gets trashed.

I loved the titling and haunting voice of Grainne Renihan as Bird Woman singing Tuppence and the comedic walk-on parts of Miss Lark (Sophie Caton) and Admiral Bloom (Graham Hoadly).

It is full marks to all the cast for a flawless performance and the fabulous costumes, set, routines and special effects.

It’s all a jolly holiday going from black and white silhouettes to a kaleidoscope of colours and when atmospheric freeze frame moments bust into movement its a snapshot of joy.

The troupe perform ballet, ballroom and acrobatic routines reminisce of the Tiller girls at the London Palladium and the Irish foot-tapping steps from Riverdance.

There are Pearly kings and queens, a circus in the park, living statues wearing nought but a fig leaf and the set looks like a folding dolls house and the illusions it creates are pop-up magic.

The grey Kafka sloping wall in the bank, old men with whiskers wearing tall top hats and tails create a slightly oppressive ‘precision and order’.

And the can-do line of the evening was ‘you can move a mountain with a big enough spade’.

So how did this stage show compare with the 1960s film starring the prim and proper Julie Andrews in the title role and American comedian Dick Van Dyke as the friendly chimney sweep?

Well no animated wizardry or grating Cockney accents so I liked it much better.

Author PL Travers penned the Mary Poppins series of eight children’s books.

With music and lyrics by award-winning brothers Robert and Richard Sherman with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a script by Downton Abbey wordsmith Julian Fellowes what’s not to like?

The stage show swaps the suffragette scene in the film for park statues coming alive which is the book.

Disney theatrical president and producer Thomas Schumacher and the commercially successful British theatrical producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh were in Bristol for the staging of the co-production and it was rumoured that contemporary choreographer and director Matthew Bourne who added all the high octane dance sequences came to see his muse Zizi Strallen in the lead role.

In an auditorium which was full of national and local media people I also spotted lovely comedian Eddie Large and his wife Patsy.

The cast had to take multiply curtain calls at the end of the show when everyone stood to clap and cheer and the auditorium was buzzing with excitement as we filed out.

Carol Deacon

     FACT FILE     


  • Mary Poppins the musical opened in December 2004 at the Prince Edward Theatre, London and ran for more than three years and 1,291 performances

  • Mary Poppins opened on Broadway in October 2006 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. When it closed in March 2013 it had run for more than six years and 2,619 performances and had become the 22nd longest running show in Broadway history

  • The first US tour of Mary Poppins opened in Chicago in March 2009 and toured to 34 cities including Toronto and Mexico City. The show has subsequently toured Australia, New Zealand, US and UK and has been seen by more than 11 million people and broke box office records in Vienna

  • It took more than 20 years to convince the author of Mary Poppins to sell the movie rights. The story was made into a film called Saving Mr. Banksin 2013 starring Emma Thompson as PL Travers and Tom Hanks as filmmaker Walt Disney

  • In the early 1940s Walt Disney told his daughter Diane that he would make her favourite book into a movie. He was probably assuming that any author would be thrilled to hitch her name up to the Disney wagon, but quickly discovered that PL Travers was not just any author. For more than 20 years, Travers refused to deal with Disney. It was only in 1961 that she finally relented, mostly because she needed the money

  • Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke weren't the only options for the film lead roles. Angela Lansbury and Bette Davis were also considered for the role of Mary. Cary Grant was Walt's favorite for Bert. Some of the nannies lined up at the beginning of the movie are actually men

  • The Sherman Brothers wrote 30 songs for the movie. Roughly 20 of them were cut, but some found new homes. The Beautiful Briny was later used in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the melody from Land of Sand was eventually recycled as Trust in Me from Jungle Book

  • A Spoonful of Sugar was inspired by the polio vaccine. To help woo Andrews to the part, Walt Disney had the Sherman Brothers write a special tune for her. The duo penned a lovely song called The Eyes of Love. Andrews hated it. The rewrite (‘something catchier’, according to Walt) proved to be a struggle for Robert Sherman—until he went home to see his kids. They had received their polio vaccine that day and informed him that it hadn’t hurt at all; the medicine was simply placed on a sugar cube and they ate it like candy

  • Walt Disney’s favorite song was Feed the Birds. Not just his favourite song from the movie—his favourite song ever. Richard Sherman has said on several occasions that Walt would stop by the Sherman Brothers office every Friday and request a private performance.



makes Oxford English dictionary!


Someone magical is coming back to the Bristol Hippodrome.

From playing the sizzling Lana in Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man stage star Zizi Strallen is to take the title role in Mary Poppins at the Bristol Hippodrome from Thursday to Saturday, October 29-November 28.

Zizi has also appeared in the West End production of Cats and the multi award-winning Merrily We Roll Along.

Bert will be played by top Australian actor dancer Matt Lee.

Other cast members include Milo Twomey as George Banks; Rebecca Lock as Winifred Banks; Penelope Woodman as Miss Andrew; Wendy Ferguson as Mrs Brill; Grainne Renihan as Bird Woman and Blair Anderson as Robertson Ay.

Cameron Mackintosh said: “It’s hard to believe that it is already 11 years since Mary Poppins first landed on the London stage. 

“My goodness time flies even faster than our beloved Nanny! 

“I’m delighted to be bringing her back to the UK and for the first time to Dublin, after spreading her magic around the world. 

“Since we originally staged the production we have found even more magical ways to stage this timeless tale.

“I’m also thrilled to have cast yet another of the extraordinarily talented Strallen family in the role of Mary and pair her with one of the most brilliant Bert’s we have been fortunate to find worldwide.

“I know Zizi and Matt will be practically perfect in every way and a show-stopping tour de force.”

The magical story of the world’s favourite Nanny arriving on Cherry Tree Lane has been triumphantly and spectacularly brought to the stage with dazzling choreography, incredible effects and unforgettable songs.

The stage version of Mary Poppins is adapted from the wonderful stories by PL Travers and the beloved Walt Disney film.

The stage production is co-created by Cameron Mackintosh and has a book by Oscar-winning screenwriter and Downton Abbey creator, Julian Fellowes.

It has a timeless score by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman including the songs Jolly Holiday, Step in Time, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Feed the Birds with new songs and additional music and lyrics by the Olivier award-winning British team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

The producer for Disney Theatrical Productions is Thomas Schumacher.

Bristol Hippodrome marketing manager Steve Jones said: “The world premiere of Mary Poppins in September 2004 here at The Bristol Hippodrome was an incredibly special time for us all where sell out Bristol audiences really took her to their hearts.

“We have no doubt again that theatregoers will be equally thrilled to hear Mary is returning and I cannot urge everyone enough to book early to avoid the disappointment that many have experienced on other recent productions.

“This is going to be a hot ticket.”

Tickets £22.50-£62.50 are on sale now.

PHOTOS: Top Mary Poppins cast in action © Johan Persson and below the VIP guests with the stars on press night at Bristol Hippodrome. Pictured from left is Thomas Schumacher, Matt Lee, Zizi Strallen, Rebecca Lock, Milo Twomey and Cameron Mackintosh © Dave Betts