Review: Forget feel good, this is feel fantastic
Theatre: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
Based on the 1968 MGM movie, this stage adaptation of Ian Fleming's second-most famous creation is a dramatic musical and technical triumph.
Widowed Caractacus Potts, an inventor, is solo parenting his two kids. The kids become bewitched by a wrecked old ex-champion racing car which is threatened with the scrap heap. It is 1919, a golden age of motoring advances. Potts manages to buy the car, making some money finally out of one of his crazy inventions. It turns out to have magical properties.
A cod middle European country called Vulgaria sends a secret agent duo, Boris and Goran, to England to steal the car. Sam Harrison and Scott Paige make a brilliant comic double act as they set out on their spy mission. They disguise themselves first as English people, and then as bushes. Englishness as a theme gets plenty of funny puncturing.
Jason Manford is delightful as Caractacus Potts, accompanied by Amy Griffiths as Truly Scrumptious. Their performances, and those of Darcy Snares and Louie Green, who played the Potts kids on opening night, have a gentle realism.
Director James Brining maintains a true emotional core, alongside the farcical elements and infectious energy of the song and dance routines. The story reaches a high point, literally, at the end of Act 1, with the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang number and the flying car.
A more sinister element emerges in Act 2, as the Childcatcher, played with plenty of evil by Martin Kemp, swings into action. We move to Vulgaria, with its vaguely fascist insignia. All children are banned, and live in the sewers. The Baron ruler is mad for teddy bears, and there is much hilarity; the bad guys turn out to be pretty ineffective, and Chitty flies in to save the day.
When it comes to a flying car, the power and immediacy of the live event of theatre is supreme. With some video projection tricks borrowed from cinema, the take off and flight is a triumph. Not so much a feel good show, as a feel fantastic show.