Liam Rudden: Capital audiences in for a treat as Zizi plays perfect Poppins

Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins.' Picture: Matt Crockett
Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins.' Picture: Matt Crockett
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ZIZI Strallen was born to play Mary Poppins; Cameron Mackintosh’s new touring production of PL Travers’ tale makes that clear.

When magical nanny Mary Poppins is wished upon the Edwardian Banks family of Cherry Tree Lane, it’s not just the children, Michael and Jane who find their lives turned upside down, but their parents too.

With melodic expression, nifty footwork and the odd knowing glance, the diminutive star embraces and cherishes the other-worldliness of Poppins.

Magical and wise, tender but with no quarter given, she isn’t practically perfect in the role, she is, quite simply, perfect; the definitive you might say.

That’s no mean feat when you consider those who have played the role in the past.

Travers started writing Mary Poppins in 1933. In 1964 Disney premiered the now famous silver screen adaptation with Julie Andrews in the role. Producer Cameron Mackintosh brought the story to the West End in 2004 and to Broadway two years later.

Eleven years on and I’m attending the Dublin press night of Mackintosh and Disney’s latest touring production.

It’s a lavish, red carpet affair with snappers and film crews gathered on the fringes. But then, this Mary Poppins is something special and Strallen’s is not the only notable performance.

As Mrs Brill, Wendy Ferguson’s Mme Thenardier-esque cook is a beautifully crafted little character and laugh-out-loud funny, the perfect foil for Blair Anderson’s gloriously hapless Roberstson Ay. The pair are comedy gold.

Rebecca Lock’s fiercely maternal Winifred Banks brings new layers to the excitable matriarch. Warm and determinedly loyal, she shines, bringing a natural tenderness to the role.

As her troubled spouse George Banks, Milo Twomey is a suitably tortured soul, while the cause of his torment, the child-loathing Miss Andrew, is played by Penelope Woodman with devilish zeal.

Precocious and effortlessly confident, at this performance it is the turn of Harvey Shoesmith-Dean and Lucy Simmonds to bring Michael and Jane to life.

Bert, the chimney sweep, made famous by Dick Van Dyke on screen, is subtly underplayed by Matt Lee, who comes into his own in the big dance routines, huge infectious ensemble numbers that bubble and fizz with colour and energy.

With Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear overseeing choreography, you would hardly expect anything less.

The impressively large ensemble gives 100 per cent throughout, ensuring it’s impossible not to get carried away during timeless favourites such as Let’s Go Fly A Kite, A Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisiticrxpialidocious, which simply screams out for a singalong. And gets one.

There are tears too. Grianne Renihan as The Bird Woman can be relied on to make sure there’s hardly a dry eye in the house with an emotional rendition of Feed The Birds.

Throw in jaw-dropping special effects and spectacular sets and costumes that sparkle with Disney magic and this Mary Poppins is by far the best yet.

Just make sure you catch it when it flies into the Festival Theatre for a three-week run at the end of April.

Mary Poppins, Festival Theatre, Nicolson St, 27 April-21 May, £28-£61, 0131-529 6000