REVIEW: York Stage, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, to Sat. ****

High-flying success: Ned Sproston’s Caractacus Potts at the wheel of Chitty, with Carly Morton’s Truly Scrumptious in the passenger seat and Logan Willstrop’s Jeremy Potts and Hope Day’s Jemima Potts in York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. All pictures: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, York Stage, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm nightly to Saturday; 2.30pm matinees, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office:

THIS is James Bond author Ian Flemings’s eyebrow-raising 1964 children’s story, via Ken Hughes’s 1968 family musical fantasy film, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams.

It would be easy to put the emphasis on the spectacle, the car that floats and flies, with as many special features as a Q-customised Aston Martin for Bond. Certainly director-producer Nik Briggs pulls out all the stops on that score, but his Chitty show has more wings to it than merely its fine four-fendered friend’s airborne adventures.

The “fantasmagorical” spectacle here extends beyond the repurposed scrap-heap Grand Prix car to Damien Poole’s fabulous, fun and funny choreography; the hair and make-up by Phoebe Kilvington’s team; Charades Theatrical Costume’s flamboyant costume designs and the uncredited hi-tech set design, windmill sails et al.

Pulling a Chu-Chi Face: Alex Papachristou’s Baron Bomburst and Jackie Cox’s Baroness

Out of sight, aside from diligent yet playful musical director Adam Tomlinson, is his lush 12-piece orchestra, properly filling the pit with gorgeous musicality for the Sherman brothers’ score.

Above all, Briggs has improved further on the balance between grand theatricality and human personality in West Yorkshire Playhouse’s 2015 Christmas production. Perhaps it would be truer to say “caricature personality”, but the result is a greater connection with the audience.

In particular, this applies to the baddie double act of Alex Papachristou’s arch, spoilt, teddy bear-carrying Baron Bomburst and his brassy Baroness (Jackie Cox), a hammier, kinkier couple than past interpretations, and far funnier than their outrageous banishment of children from their Vulgarian principality should be.

Bomburst’s spies, Boris and Goran, are always  comedy gold, in pursuit of purloining the car for the baron, but they are better still in the hands of Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball, Vulgarian vultures trying to pass themselves off as Englishmen (and even women too).

Send for the clowning spies: Jack Hooper’s Boris gives a lift to James Robert Ball’s Goran

Papachristou, Cox, Hooper and Ball stretch their Vulgarian accents across Germanic vowels with delight and differing, equally amusing results in a send-up where ’Allo ’Allo! meets Mel Brooks’s The Producers.

Such is their broad playing, their comic interplay, their relish for downright silliness, that all four carry appeal for adults and children alike, evil but never vile. Unlike Richard Barker’s Childcatcher, that towering, spindly, grotesque rotter, whose villainy is more threat than presence, given how few scenes he has.

Meanwhile, several saucy jokes fly above innocent young heads, relished especially by Ball and Papachristou, who also rescues a prop malfunction (a telephone wire becoming detached) with an off-the-cuff one liner.

Ploughing a straighter furrow are Ned Sproston’s thoroughly decent inventor and single dad Caractacus Potts, plucky children Jeremy (Logan Willstrop, sharing the role with Esther de la Pena) and Jemima Potts (Hope Day/Eady Mensah), and Carly Morton’s utterly pucker Truly Scrumptious (whose beautiful singing with the purity of a Julie Andrews peaks with her Doll On A Music Box routine, clockwork dancing so exquisitely).

Peachy performance: Carly Morton’s Truly Scrumptious

Throughout, Mick Liversidge’s potty, old-school, restlessly energetic Grandpa Potts maximises his humorous interjections aplenty.

Briggs uses adult and children’s ensembles to the full, testament to the show’s mantra that teamwork makes the dream work, never more so than when Poole’s choreography is in full flow in Toots Sweets and especially The Bombi Samba.

Boris and Goran’s Act English and Potts and the Morris Men’s Me Ol’ Bamboo, Grandpa and The Inventors’ The Roses Of Success and the Baron and Baroness’s Chu-Chi Face are all bursting with character as much as musical flair.

For all the considerable technical demands of a show with a flying car, Briggs and his company take everything in their stride with panache in a dazzling, dapper and delightful family treat for the Easter break. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, bang on.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies into Grand Opera House with York Stage at the wheel

Alex Papachristou’s Baron Bomburst and Jackie Cox’s Baroness in York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

THE Sherman brothers’ fantasmagorical musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, takes to the air at the Grand Opera House, York, from tonight.

Produced and directed by Nik Briggs, with musical direction by Adam Tomlison and choreography by Damien Poole, York Stage’s production of Ian Fleming’s story of madness, mayhem and magic features not only a big cast but a quartet of cars too.

“One of them is parked in the en-suite! That’s Baron Bomburst’s car, more of a vintage, turn-of-the-century car than Chitty, slightly more primitive, that we’ve brought here from Brighton,” says Nik. “The Baron wants inventor Caractacus Potts to fit it with a ‘float and fly’ features.

“There’s the battered old Chitty that the children find in a junkyard, and the Chitty with the title role, the 16ft long, 6ft wide, four-fendered Chitty, weighing 1,000kg, that magically flies over the Grand Opera House stage. We’ve hired that car from a company down south that built it specially for stage productions.

“We also have a smaller version of Chitty that was created for a production in Malton five or six years ago.”

Adapted from James Bond novelist Fleming’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, written for his son in 1962 and published as three books in 1964, the musical tells the tale of whacky inventor Caractacus Potts (played by Ned Sproston), his two children and the gorgeous Truly Scrumptious (Carly Morton).

Can they outwit bombastic Baron Bomburst (Alex Papachristou), who has decreed that all children be banished from his kingdom? Watch out, here comes the evil Childcatcher (Richard Barker), who will be “popping up, here, there and everywhere, you never know where next”, Nik promises.

Nik Briggs: Producer-director for York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

“Yes, we have the flying car, but at its heart, it’s a really lovely story of Caractacus and his children, who are so imaginative. Even though Chitty is burnt out when they find her, they see designs of the car and that leads them off into a fantasy world, where the Baron is desperate to have the car.

“His wife, the Baroness (Jackie Cox), will do anything to please him and so she sends spies Boris and Goran (Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball) – obviously not the most intelligent of spies – from Vulgaria to retrieve the car from England.

“We have a broad style of playing these characters, with various Germanic and Vulgarian accents rather than a uniform one,” says Nik. “We’ve deliberately allowed everyone to find the fun in their character, so they all have their different styles. It’s almost comedy in the ’Allo ’Allo! style.

“Traditionally you have a fall guy to set up the gag, but with the Baron and Baroness and the spies too, it’s more like being on a see-saw; they’re the fall guy for each other, so anything goes.”

Barlby-raised Alex Papachristou is returning to the York stage, where he first caught the eye,  to take over the role of Baron Bomburst at short notice, heading up from London over the past fortnight for weekend rehearsals, to be followed by tech week.

“They’re ridiculous characters, like a parody of themselves, but it’s also good to see the consequences of the Baron and Baroness’s greed. He’s like a 1910 version of Donald Trump, saying he’s going to make Vulgaria great again!” he says.

“The villains do have a Bond villain quality about them. The Baron doesn’t have a cat but he does have a teddy bear.”

York Stage’s poster artwork for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as Chitty takes to the sky over York

Nik adds: “The Jeremy Sams version of the musical that we’re using does feature the Baron and the Baroness and the two spies a lot more than the 1968 film, so you get the story of Caractacus Potts, his children and Truly Scrumptious, but more of the baddies too.

“It’s also interesting to have a story about a single father. Caractacus is this loving character who will do anything for his children, giving them their creative outlets and liberating them to do whatever they want. When the romance with Truly Scrumptious comes along, they are from two different worlds, but they find love.”

Alex’s Baron will differ from the screen version. “I don’t play him like in the film. I play him as a 33-year-old spoilt young Baron, not a baron in his sixties. Of the roles I’ve played before, he’s quite similar in that way to Herod [performed as a white-faced, cross-dressing vaudeville act in York Stage Musicals’ Jesus Christ Superstar in 2011, when Briggs was Pontius Pilate], but not similar to anyone else,” he says.

“I’ve had to work really hard at this role as he wasn’t a natural fit. I even had Brian Blessed in my head for a while! The humour is more dry, more subtle, than in the film, and these characters are so well written that there’s a lot of elasticity to play around with them: you could really do it 100 ways, but as long as the children in the audience hate you and the adults love you, that’s all that matters!

“On the surface, the Baron and Baroness love each other, but underneath, they can’t stand each other, and it’s good to play someone who has more than one level to their character. These are the parts that are a joy to do and it’s always fun to be the villain.”

York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, today to April 15, 7.30pm nightly except April 9, plus 2.30pm matinees, tomorrow, Saturday, April 12 and 15. Box office:

Copyright of The Press, York

Happy Valentine’s day, all week, as York Stage’s Sweet Charity goes in search of love

Looking for love: Katie Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine in York Stage’s Sweet Charity

WHAT better character name could there be for a show opening on St Valentine’s Day than Charity Hope Valentine?!

Company regular Katie Melia will take that sweet, optimistic, indomitable, hopeful, romantic, trusting, naïve, quirky, charming, caring, irresistible role in York Stage’s production of Sweet Charity, the musical with the subtitle The Adventures Of A Girl Who Wanted To Be Loved.

From tomorrow to Sunday, the John Cooper Studio will be transformed into a seedily seductive Fandango Ballroom for the 1966 Broadway musical with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, decorated by such songs as Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Rhythm Of Life.

“I’ve wanted to do Sweet Charity for over a decade in York,” says director-producer Nik Briggs. “When I started York Stage, we had an Independent Woman season, with Hairspray, Sister Act and Legally Blonde, and Sweet Charity was in on the wish list.

Fandango Ballroom dancers: Emily Ramsden’s Nickie, back, Carly Morton’s Helene and Katie Melia’s Charity Hope Valentine

“I’ve always loved Neil Simon’s work, and considering it’s a dance-heavy musical, you can still really get into the story. What made him so special at that time is the realism in his work, where everyone recognises those situations, and to see those scenes so intimately at Theate@41 will be really rewarding.”

In the American musical comedy, Melia’s heart-of-gold New York City taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine fantasises about three things in life: romance, luxury and escaping the questionable ballroom clientele. Lovable, gullible and spirited, she longs to find a lover to sweep her off her feet but Charity keeps handing over her heart and earnings to the wrong man, whether Charlie, his name tattooed on her arm, movie star Vittorio Vidal or Oscar.

“Charity is billed as ‘the girl who wanted to be loved’. All she wants is true love,” says Nik. “But as [fellow dancer] Nickie tells her, ‘your big problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time’. She’s the kind of girl who falls in love too easily and just goes from guy to guy.

“Sweet Charity follows hostess Charity through the various men in her life, as she lives in hope through all of them, but deep down, we all know that we’ve seen it all before and heard it all before, and one of the reasons I love the piece is that it doesn’t give audiences the ending they expect.”

Nik Briggs: York Stage director-producer for Sweet Charity

Briggs has picked a cast of 15, led by Melia’s Charity, who is joined by Emily Ramsden and Carly Morton as dancers Nickie and Helene; Stuart Piper as Oscar; Jack Hooper as Vittorio Vidal; James Robert Ball as Daddy; Briggs himself as Fandango ballroom owner/pimp Herman and York Stage newcomer Mary Clare as Ursula and Rosie.

Amy Barrett, who played the female lead, assembly line worker Lauren, in York Stage’s Kinky Boots last September, will be Carmen, while supporting roles go to Verity Carr, Ilana Weets, Kelly Stocker, Sam Roberts, Stuart Hutchinson and debut-making Katherine Farr.

Rather than an orchestra of 30 for big Broadway productions of Sweet Charity, Briggs and musical director Jess Viner have “totally rearranged” the songs for a small band, stationed above the stage on the mezzanine level. “It’s almost like a jazz quartet,” says Nik. “We’ve created a production for the Theatre@41 space [a black box design] and that space is very much a 16th member of the cast.”

A further key factor is the choreography for a musical first choreographed by Bob Fosse for both the stage premiere and the 1969 film, his screen directorial debut. “You can’t move away from the Sixties, that very stylised choreography that is sensual and sexual,” says Nik.

Emily Ramsden’s Nickie and Carly Morton’s Helene in York Stage’s Sweet Charity

“Danielle Mullan-Hill has created really dynamic routines for us that’ll be very exciting to see in that space – and she knows that space and how to work it from doing our pandemic pantomime, [Jack And The Beanstalk, in December 2020]. It will feel really immersive.”

To mark St Valentine’s Day, York Stage are advertising the first night as “Galentine’s Night”. “Traditionally, it’s a night for all the gals without a Valentine date, when they get all the girls round,” says Nik. “There’s a glass of fizz included in the ticket for Valentine’s night for gals…and guys.”

Coming next from York Stage will be Ian Fleming’s fantasmagorical musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, flying car et al, at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 6 to 15. Principal roles will go to Carly Morton as Truly Scrumptious; Ned Sprouston as inventor Caractacus Potts; Finn East as Baron Bomburst; Richard Barker as the evil Childcatcher and Mick Liversidge as Grandpa Potts. Adam Tomlinson will be the musical director.

York Stage in Sweet Charity, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow (14/2/2023) until Sunday, 7.30pm, except Sunday; , 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office:

York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, April 6 to 15, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, April 7, 8, 12 and 15; no shows on April 9. Box office:

The poster for York Stage’s spring production, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at the Grand Opera House, York