It’s a strange thing to sit in a venue and not feel part of the experience. Others around you are likely swept up in what’s presented, yet you feel a disconnect. It’s happened to me a few times at concerts, when the young girls squealed in raptures and I felt underwhelmed. And I felt it again when I saw Mary Poppins live on Friday night.
The moment it really hit home was somewhere in the middle of the extended, or drawn out, version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” It seemed to go on and on and it seemed everyone in the theatre was singing that infernal chorus over and over again, clapping their hands in time. And I thought “Well this is all a bit silly, isn’t it?”
To be fair, I wasn’t a great fan of the Disney movie. I saw it as I saw many others of the vintage, but didn’t rewatch it tirelessly the way I did Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I decided to go see the stage production though as everyone had raved about it, and my parents and husband were keen. And besides, I had never met a musical I didn’t like. Famous last words.
Mary Poppins wasn’t all bad. Verity Hunt-Ballard had the presence and poise to pull off the role of the imposing but kind-hearted titular nanny. Phillip Quast’s Mr Banks had just the right amount of bluster. The children were quite lovely, not at all as cloying as child performers tend to be. I wasn’t entirely convinced by Matt Lee’s Bert, but boy that man can dance.
And as a spectacle, Mary Poppins certainly exceeded my expectations. I’ve never seen set design like it, with the Banks house folding up and down and every which way to take us into the rooms and up to its roof, with the lights of London twinkling all around. And no one could fail to be impressed as Mary Poppins flew off into the night. The only problem was, when she did it at the end of the first half I didn’t particularly want her to return.
Where Mary Poppins missed the mark for me was heart. I couldn’t help thinking back to seeing Hairspray a few weeks prior, and the way I felt so invested in it. It wasn’t as glittery, but it seemed to have more soul. At so many points in Mary Poppins I felt detached, uninspired, and frankly a bit bored. I just couldn’t get swept up in it all. Clearly I’m one of the few that feel this way. The countless Helpmann Awards, glowing reviews, and comments of my own family members tell a different story. I guess it just goes to show that you really can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Image source: Newtown Graffiti @ Flickr