Review: Bedknobs and Broomsticks at Edinburgh Festival Theatre is a magical masterpiece

Shadow enemies, a generation lost to war and three orphaned children, there is little doubt that Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a dark tale with its origins in a Britain ravaged by and still recovering from World War II.

By Liam Rudden
Friday, 18th February 2022, 1:22 pm
Dianne Pilkington as Miss Eglantine Price
Dianne Pilkington as Miss Eglantine Price

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Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Five Stars

Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street

The Bedknobs and Broomsticks company

In this production the trauma of the nation is palpable from the beginning, beautifully realised through a wordless, action-packed seven minute ‘prologue’ that succinctly sets the scene for the trials that await the three newly orphaned Rawlins’ children.

Their adventures start when they are evacuated to the countryside to be billeted with apprentice witch Miss Eglantine Price... before long they are all travelling the country on an enchanted bed, in search of a spell to defeat the enemy.

Based on the books The Magic Bedknob or How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks by children's author Mary Norton and discovered by many through the 1971 Disney film, this World Premiere stage production from producer Michael Harrison, who also produces Edinburgh King's annual panto, is subtly updated while never straying too far from the source material and its anti-war message.

Directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, the story fair zips along as a talented ensemble make every scene change a dramatic feast for the eyes, the action flowing from location to location as each setting dissolves into the next - this is wonderfully imaginative staging.

Leading the company, Dianne Pilkington is a wonderfully warm yet deliciously dry Eglantine Price. Her strong vocals, precise comic timing and innate thread of vulnerability make for a quite mesmerising performance.

Pilkington's ever softening attitude towards her ‘unwanted’ wards is a joy to behold as are the performances of Conor O'Hara, Izabella Bucknell and Aidan Oti as the orphaned Charlie, Carrie and Paul. O'Hara in particular captures the complexities of loss and grief at a young age, while Bucknell is a strong presence throughout even though Oti boasts some of the best lines, of which he takes full advantage.

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Strong support comes from Charles Brunton as the ineffectual Emelious Browne and Jacqui Dubois, a scene stealing Mrs Hobay, although she is given a run for her money by Susannah Ven Den Berg as the monstrous, but very funny Mrs Mason.

However, while the big set numbers for such well loved songs as A Step In The Right Direction, The Age of Not Believing and The Beautiful Briny are spectacularly executed, it's Jamie Harrison’s illusions that make this production very special indeed.

From the famous flying bed to Eglantine's impressive jaunt through the skies on her newly acquired broomstick, the magic is seamless and quite literally spellbinding. As with all the best magic, you know there's a trick somewhere in the mix, but you really don't really want to discover what it is.

A heart-warming, magical experience this is the hottest ticket in Edinburgh this week, so engage your inner child and get lost in the kinetic masterpiece that is Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Run ends Sunday

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