Category Archives: Reviews

Mary Poppins at the Wales Millennium Centre – Practically Perfect!

For one nine year old girl, it has been a l-o-o-n-g few days. Exhausted from a busy first term in Year 5, and then last week her school concert and drama club Christmas showcase, she has been looking paler by the day. There were moments this week, as she dissolved into tired tears over nothing at all, that I had my doubts as to whether a late night seeing Mary Poppins at the Wales Millennium Centre was a wise move.

I’m so glad that she persuaded me otherwise, with promises of early nights for evermore (ha, we’ll see how that goes!) and even an offer to write a review herself ‘because that would be really good for my English, Mum’. Her written review may or may not be forthcoming – but we’ve had a pretty much non stop verbal review since the minute the curtain came down, mostly along the lines of ‘Best. Night. Ever.’

And you know what, for a tired little girl and her frazzled mother, it really was. From the second the curtain went up to reveal the chimneys of Cherry Tree Lane and Bert – lovely Bert – chin-chim-cheree-ing, we were captivated.

The set alone was truly outstanding. Cherry Tree Lane opened out like a doll’s house, inviting us to get up close and personal with Banks family and their trials and tribulations, starting of course with Katie-Nana’s sudden departure and the apparently doomed quest for the perfect nanny. When Mary Poppins arrives, as we know she will, the children are whisked spit-spot up to the nursery and here we’re given a first taste of the Mary Poppins magic, including the bottomless carpet bag as well as the tape measure pronouncing Mary Poppins to be Practically Perfect, and Michael and Jane to be, uh, well, not.

From here the production intertwines familiar and favourite aspects of the film with newer songs and situations written specifically for the stage musical – this has the effect of making the story wonderfully comforting and familiar, while holding the audience in thrall to the next adventure, not knowing quite how or where it might occur.  There was plenty to engage adults, not least in the world of work as Mr Banks reflects that ‘making money from money’ does not seem to bode well for the future; but of course the lessons about what children really need from their parents are the most poignant – I’m sure that I wasn’t the only adult in the audience resolving to fly more kites, be they metaphorical or real.

The energy level of the show was amazing from start to finish – while the songs themselves would have carried the show, the choreography really took it to another level; how the cast managed nearly three hours without appearing to fade even a little bit is beyond me. There were a few gasp-out-loud moments which had my girl (and, ahem, me) enthralled in our seats – but no spoilers here!

While my girl’s favourite part of the show was the high-octane Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the standouts for me were ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ (look out for yet another fantastic set), and ‘Step in Time’. The number that we’ve both been humming along to today though is one that doesn’t appear in the film, ‘Anything can Happen (if you let it)’. It was a wonderfully uplifting song to end the evening on, and we left with the thought that though the show was over, the magic needn’t be. And in these times, that’s a truly lovely thing.

**HUGE thanks to the Wales Millennium Centre who gave us a chance to enjoy the magic of Mary Poppins**


Mary Poppins at the Wales Millennium Centre

Mary Poppins.

Even just saying the name is enough to bring back my childhood, and my worn out copy of P.L.Travers‘ first Mary Poppins book (I never loved the others quite so much). My sisters and I watched the film as often as repeats on TV would allow (must explain to my kids the concept of telly-NOT-on demand sometime) and we listened to the LP over and over again, becoming word and action perfect. I do not know how old I was when I stopped secretly hoping that it would one day be possible to clean our wreck of a bedroom with a finger click and a spoonful of metaphorical sugar, but I suspect it was far older than I’d care to admit.

Of course I did eventually grow out of hoping that Mary Poppins would descend from the sky, and also realised quite how loooong and weird the film actually is, and that was that. Right up until I found myself having had three kids in a little under four and a half years. And then, believe me, a random umbrella wielding nanny bringing a sense of order to my life was ALL I hoped for. For months, possibly years.  (I may or may not have tried clicking my fingers frantically at the mess through a post natal haze of tears. Certainly nobody saw me do it, so, uh, probably I didn’t).

I’ll tell you what I did do most definitely do though, was a little dance of joy when the Wales Millennium Centre contacted me to ask if I’d like to bring one of the kids to see Mary Poppins next week. Not only because I’ll get to sing along to all my childhood favourites, but also because it will be a lovely treat for my ever patient girl-in-the-middle who in her own way, does an awful lot of Mary Poppinsing and smoothing over between her brothers. What a lovely way to start the Christmas Holidays!

If you fancy a bit of chimchimney magic and a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious evening out to boot, you can book to see the show at the Wales Millennium Centre here – it’s on from December 14th – January 14th 2017. Enjoy!

**Disclosure – the WMC kindly invited me to see Mary Poppins free of charge in return for a review**


Second star to the right and straight on till morning…

I’m afraid I have reached the grand old age of, uh, OLD, without ever making it to the second star to the right, let alone to an operatic performance. My knowledge of opera is limited to the oft-played set pieces that have accompanied various sporting events – Nessun Dorma transports me immediately back to my ‘A’ Level summer for example – but beyond that, I’ve got nothing. Nada, zero. zilch.

No more! Last night, my girl in the middle and I were treated to tickets to the UK premiere of Richard Ayre’s ‘Peter Pan’, performed by the Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre. Of course we are both familiar with JM Barrie’s tale of the boy who never grew up, but beyond that, neither of us knew what to expect.

The WNO has really pulled out all the stops to make the experience welcoming to children (and slightly out-of-their-depth adults!) The performance started early, at 6.30pm, and beforehand the impressive public space at the Welsh Millennium Centre was busy with free pirate themed activities including treasure hunts, face painting and story telling. There are also surtitles (in both English and Welsh) which were a boon to our un-operatic ears, and for this reason I’d say that the WNO’s recommendation of 8 and above was spot on – being able to read the lyrics as they were sung made the performance much more accessible.

Fuelled with the obligatory special-treat trip to Nandos, we took our seats expectantly and waited for the performance to start. ‘Is this your daughter’s first trip to the opera?’ boomed a gentleman beside me. ‘Er, yes, and mine’ I answered slightly nervously. ‘We’ve got Wine Gums!’ interjected my girl proudly, and I rather thought that this might cause some raised operatic-type eyebrows from the real grownups around me. However the gentlemen seemed remarkably unfazed and couldn’t have been friendlier, pointing out composer Richard Ayres as he chatted to audience members across the way.

We had enough time to read the programme synopsis before the show started, and I would certainly recommend this if you are attending with children, at least for the first scene. This features a wordless romp through the Darlings’ lives as they transform from happy-go-lucky newly-weds to rather more careworn parents of three children; without having read the blurb I think this would have been tricky to grasp (though that might just be the voice of an uncultured 40-something speaking!)

After this visually and orchestrally impressive opener, the show moved to the more familiar nursery scene, where we met Wendy, John and Michael, and of course Nana the dog, caring for the children while Mr and Mrs Darling get ready for an important party. Needless to say their preparations are hindered by their children, and it was at this point that I could feel my daughter becoming drawn in to the story – ‘see Mum, kids liked winding their parents up even in the olden days!’

From this point on, she was totally absorbed. The aerial antics of Peter, Wendy, John and Michael as they flew to Neverland were a great hit, as was the ethereal Tink fluttering around the stage thanks to some incredibly clever animation. She also loved the busy scenes as Wendy was introduced to the Lost Boys who plead with her to be their mother – however it was the appearance of Captain Hook and his pirate ship that drew the biggest smile.

And no wonder – Captain Hook (played by same the singer as played Mr Darling) was everything you could want from a dastardly Pirate Captain. He and his colourful crew kept us entertained every time they appeared, until their fun was curtailed by the sound of Captain Hook’s watch ticking away, indicating that the Crocodile was near…or perhaps someone pretending to be the crocodile!

The pirates stole the show, but Tiger Lily and her band of fighters were also a highlight for my girl. She giggled her way through Tiger Lily and Peter boasting about their escape from Captain Hook as a furious Wendy tried (and failed) to point out that it was in fact her cunning that effected the rescue – this was my favourite scene also, perhaps because it was reminiscent of the squabbles that take place daily in our house!

It’s occurred to me that I have not really mentioned the music at all so far. This isn’t because I didn’t enjoy it – quite the opposite – but more that I don’t really have the musical understanding or technical vocabulary to describe it, nor do I have the knowledge to place it in any sort of context. What I can say is that though it took me a while to get my head around the operatic singing style and pared-down dialogue, my daughter seemed to instantly feel at home; also the fact we’re both humming along to parts of the show this morning speaks for itself I think.

The story ends as we all know it will – despite the excitement of Neverland, and much to Peter’s disgust, the children fly back to Nana and the heartbroken Mr and Mrs Darling – accompanied by the Lost Boys, all welcomed with open arms. A happy ending for the Darlings, though as always, we are left to wonder about Peter and Tink as they return to Neverland….

Peter Pan is on at the Wales Millennium Centre on 23rd and 31st May, at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 11th June, and the Royal Opera House, London on July 24th and 25th.

**Disclosure – we were kindly invited to Peter Pan by the Welsh National Opera, in exchange for writing a review**