When the Banks children write an advertisement for a new nanny, little do they know who they’ll get: Mary Poppins! Her magic and charm turn the family’s lives upside-down, taking them on a fantastical journey that sees them rediscover their love for one another.
The Grand Theatre in London is gearing up for a month-long production of Mary Poppins running from Nov. 26 to Dec. 29.
We sat down with director Megan Watson for a little insight into Mary and what we can expect at the show.
Why Mary Poppins?
Oh, great question. So for us, we really hit the ground looking for a play that can really inspire a whole family. So what we love is the image of a grandparent, a parent, an aunt, an uncle, a friend bringing different generations to the theater. They’re all coming together. And when we were looking at Mary Poppins, I continue to be inspired by the fact that at this point, Mary Poppins is a story attached to multiple generations. Starting with the novels, this came out in the 30s, then, as we know, the 1960s film, the Disney film. Then the recent reboot and in all of that, we have the musical, the Cameron Mackintosh musical. So at this point, what I love is the inter-generational spirit of it. So that’s, I think, what brought us to Mary Poppins this year.
What do you think makes her so appealing to so many generations?
I think it’s quite simple, really. She acts as a point of inspiration for imagination. So if we think about what Mary Poppins is asking of the children and of the family, it’s to look at things from a slightly different perspective and perhaps those things can be wonderful and magical and imaginative without having to change too much. Like it’s such a beautiful offer that Mary Poppins brings, which is, if you add a spoonful of sugar, the work is easier and better and more fun. If you look at it from a slightly different perspective, perhaps this dreary park is in fact a magical Wonderland, right?
I think that’s a bit of a timeless and really nice idea and something to connect to the idea that we have everything we need. If we can just bring ourselves to look at things from a slightly different perspective, they can be wonderful.
What are you bringing to the production of Mary Poppins?
One thing that I’m really excited to share with audiences at the Grand is this idea that we have set ourselves up with our design team. We have a whole new design team. Everything is from scratch. We could, sort of copy the Broadway costume, but we don’t as you know. So we have a whole new design team. And what we’ve been really focused on is creating a world where we can go really far in the imaginative realm. So what I’m looking forward to is that jolly holiday and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. We’ll have a higher level of whimsy than we’ve possibly ever seen.
There’s a strong video element in the production, which is both incredibly challenging, but also I think one of the most exciting prospects of what we’re bringing to it. Because everything sort of starts with Mary, but then it can blow up and kind of expand throughout the whole space in a way that’s really dynamic. So I think we’re really setting ourselves up to create something with a real high level of whimsy and beauty and imagination.
She is such an iconic character. How are you presenting her?
Deborah Hay is playing Mary Poppins and in our initial conversation about the character, she had some really, I think, inspiring and astute things to say about Mary Poppins. Which I’m not sure are entirely different, but I’m excited to see Deb bring herself to the role. Specifically around the idea that she’s this woman, she’s firm, she’s a very confident, right?
Mary Poppins doesn’t question her authority and her sort of beautiful status in the world, right? She comes in with a real strong proposal and she sticks to it. And one of the things that I personally love about Mary and I look forward to kind of expanding in this production, is her pure self confidence. She looks in the mirror and she loves what she sees, right?
Working with children can be a delight, but it could also be taxing because they’re kids. What did you look for when you were casting for the kids?
We are in a bit of an embarrassment of riches in this region, because there is such a strong connection to the performing arts. So I feel like I saw a lot of kids, young people who are quite talented in terms of, they’ve taken lots of dance, they’ve taken lots of singing lessons, right? So they’re prepared. The thing that I was really looking for, because they carry so much of the play, was a real spark. A sense of curiosity and joy, and that for me in their audition, transformed into: how they communicated with me, how they communicated with the other people in the room and was there a sense of play. So the two young people we had playing, Jane and Michael, they have a real spark.
One of the best parts of the live show is always the crazy dancing and the comedy from Bert. That is the show stopper. He’s awesome.
It’s such a beautiful through line in the piece too, right? We connect to Bert, because he carries us through with these reprises of “Chim Chimney” through-out the play. In our production, I think Burt’s magic is going to come through his singing and his sense of charm. He’s also a dancer, but we’ve moved away from the traditional big, big, big moment of tap dancing.
We’re doing something that is a bit of a nod to the new film, which the choreographer, Steven Kota talks about being more of a contemporary dance take on the “Step in Time.” You kind of have the park-core feel, a bit of the stepping feel, maybe a little bit of a hip hop feel in there.
One of our approaches for this production was to modernize, while keeping the heart the same. So I think you’ll see that particularly through the dance style.
I know many may not realize that the live production has a lot more to it than the movie. What are your favourite parts about your upcoming production?
It is a slightly different story as well, so that’s always interesting when people come in with an assumption. It doesn’t have all the same elements. It has a lot of the key songs but not exactly the same. What am I most excited about in terms of what’s different? It’s funny the things like flying in live theater requires a lot. To fly in film, it is technical, and it is difficult but it’s, dare I say easier. But to fly live on stage, we’re taking a lot of care and making a lot of choices right now that is getting us closer and closer to some really beautiful flying in this production.