Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review – Bedknobs and Broomsticks Bristol Hippodrome

Review of Disney’s brand new stage musical Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which is at the Bristol Hippodrome this week

I’ve never seen the Bedknobs and Broomsticks movie. Neither have I read any of Mary Norton’s novels upon which Disney based their movie. I debated for a long time about whether to watch the film before seeing it on stage at the Bristol Hippodrome this week. Advice I was given on Twitter, from those who had seen both, suggested seeing the stage show first before watching the movie. So that was the approach I took with this show.

That was a mistake. The surprising twist at the end felt like a punch in the heart. But it was also wonderful to be surprised and entertained with storyline I didn’t see coming.

This magical musical was a fantastical adventure, from war torn London to the Devon coastline. Much of it comes as a trauma response from the children. When the twist in the tale comes towards the end, it is a heart breaking moment and so beautifully acted by a phenomenally talented cast.

The three Rawlins children’s lives are blown apart right at the very start by a bomb dropped on their home during the blitz one night. The opening direction was a brave move for a big musical. Very arty and National Theatrey with excellent sound design, music and movement. The shattered home served as a frame for the story, standing as a constant reminder of the horrors the children had experienced. The darker aspects lingered like a specter – war, evacuation, loss and Susannah Van Den Berg’s Mrs Mason with her safeguarding nightmare for evacuees anyone? But the darkness didn’t overshadow the light, entertaining and happy moments, all weighed out and balanced quite carefully across the whole story.

Creative use of an incredible ensemble throughout really lifted this show, making this a quality piece of storytelling. Using the ensemble to create set changes such as the steam train or motorbike was a wonderful contrast to the breath-taking magic effects, which left you wondering how on earth they did it.

Whilst the movie used live action and animation, these elements of the story were created with puppetry. The dazzling fish in the Briny Sea blended perfectly with Gabriella Slade’s beautiful costume design and Jamie Harrison’s Sets. Matthew Elliot-Campbell was an imposing King Leonidas. Humans turned into animals on stage.

The ending definitely had echos of the final battle in The Lion King in both terms of movement and music. Combined with the magic effects of flying props, this was a truly gripping scene.

The music – by the Sherman Brothers with new songs and additional music and lyrics from Neil Bartram – probably isn’t as strong as its counterpart Mary Poppins. But, the story is much more fun. The show whilst whimsical also packs an emotional punch.

Portobello Road was an Act 1 show stopper, a classic Disney number with its Chim Chim Cher-ee themes.

Obviously, magic is a key part of the show. Bedknobs manages to out magic the impressive Cursed Child with its tricks, illusions and How The Hell Do They Do That moments. Well, the bed is just witchcraft and the flying broom is just, well also witchcraft. How they managed to pull all these illusions together in a flawless performance as well as sing and dance gets a full on bravo and standing ovation here.

Dianne Pilkington was such a wonderful Miss Eglantine Price. Elegant, Kooky, initially brusque but always with a glint in the eye. A Step in the Right Direction as she got to grips with flying a broom was a lovely moment. She’s also the Queen of Delivery when it comes to witty one-liners but she can flick back. The reveal that she had also experienced loss at the same age as Charlie Rawlins was definitely A Moment.

Charles Brunton found a surprising depth in Emelius Browne. You felt he’d really grown from the shallow Portobello showman to the man who magicked himself into a rabbit to help save people he had grown to love.

Conor O’ Hara as Charlie Rawlins was just epic. As a 13 year old dealing with the stress of bombs, the loss of his parents and the relocation away from his home, he uses great acting to layer bluster on top of vulnerability, peeling away the barriers at the appropriate times.

Jacqui Du Bois’ Mrs Hobday – Post Master and evacuee coordinator – definitely stole the audience during her brief scenes, especially giving invading Nazis a telling off.

We find the real magic of the show right at the end. When all the illusions are over and the tricks finish, the real magic comes with connections and families, no matter the shape families take.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks The Magical Musical is easily one of Disney’s best musicals. It dares to break the conventions of big bucks musicals by focusing on gripping and entertaining story telling. It utilises traditional theatre techniques often found in more arty productions, nestling them comfortably amongst the magic of modern day effects. The end result is a brilliant show that entertains, wows and has a lot of heart.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at the Bristol Hippodrome from 26 – 29 January 2022

For more information about the show, visit:

For tickets to the Bristol Hippodrome, visit:

Photos by Johan Persson