Mary Poppins, review: the most delightful West End show in a long time

Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre - Johan Persson
Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre - Johan Persson

I adored Richard Eyre’s magical musical production when it premiered in 2004, relished its West End revival in 2019 and, yes, cherish its joyous post-Covid resurgence now. Even though West End theatre audiences appear to have forgotten every last thing about the concept of social distancing, this is an unbeatably splendid evening and quite the most delightful show to have entertained the capital in a long time.

A myriad of elements combines to make this soar as high as Miss Poppins herself when she flies over the stalls, trusty carpet bag and umbrella in hand. To start with, there’s the skilful blending of original songs by the Sherman brothers from the 1964 film with witty new work by British duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; particularly admirable is their opening number, which stylishly sets the scene of the pre-Poppins domestic disorder in Cherry Tree Lane (“It’s like an army barracks/ And we’re in a mess”). The book, by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame, nimbly weaves together PL Travers’s episodic original stories. And then we have Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp.

To quote the title of Stiles and Drew’s most instantly hummable new song, this duo is Practically Perfect. Strallen, whose older sisters are also acclaimed actors, is the consummate musical theatre performer, glorious of voice and fleet of foot, and is spit-spot-on as the brisk but kindly nanny who ends up looking after the parents as well as the children of the unhappy Banks family.

Chirpy Stemp’s Bert is the ideal counterpart, all smiles and earthy humour as he accompanies Mary and her charges (beautifully played by Ellie Kit Jones and Logan Clark on the night I attended) on their magical adventures. Stemp’s upside-down tap dance at the top of the lofty proscenium arch of this stately venue offers the most eloquent visual summation of everything that is outstanding about this show. (Perhaps Stemp kept in shape for this feat by tap-dancing on his kitchen ceiling during lockdown.)

Choreographers Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear provide the most sumptuous feast of dancing, from the arm-spinning gymnastics that accompany Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to the tap-dancing extravaganza that is Step in Time. There is strength in depth in the cast, too, behind that awesome central pairing: Charlie Anson and Amy Griffiths convince as the emotionally distanced Mr and Mrs Banks, he all unexpressed anxiety because of a dreadful nanny when he was young and she a fluster of uncertainty.

Petula Clark makes for a haunting Bird Woman, offering that deceptively simple melody Feed the Birds in a deep voice that adds a frisson of melancholy to all the surrounding jollity. Claire Machin is a hoot as the dryly witty cook Mrs Brill, trying to keep the Banks family’s spirits up by means other than her droopy cooking. That polysyllabic word starting with “super” is my beaming conclusion.

Booking until Feb 13. Tickets: 0844 482 5151

To book tickets, please visit Telegraph Tickets