PATRICK MARMION reviews the first night of the new West End production of Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins is back in the West End – and she’s flying.

In fact, Zizi Strallen is so brilliant as Ms Poppins that a spoonful of superlatives won’t quite cover it, and I found myself thinking of stronger language. 

So to spare everyone’s blushes, let’s just say I’m with Mary’s young charge Michael when he says of his magic nanny: ‘She may be tricky but she’s bloody good!’

The trouble with Michael’s verdict is that it doesn’t tell you just how bloody good Strallen is.

Zizi Strallen, pictured, is so brilliant as Mary Poppins that a spoonful of superlatives won¿t quite cover it, writes Patrick Marmion after press night on Wednesday

Zizi Strallen, pictured, is so brilliant as Mary Poppins that a spoonful of superlatives won¿t quite cover it, writes Patrick Marmion after press night on Wednesday

Zizi Strallen, pictured, is so brilliant as Mary Poppins that a spoonful of superlatives won’t quite cover it, writes Patrick Marmion after press night on Wednesday

Following her big sister Scarlett in the role, Zizi played Mary on a national tour and materialises again, as if from thin air, in fitted coat, black hat and shoes fanned into first position. And her feet never seem to touch the ground.

Poker faced, with finishing-school deportment and hands resting lightly on avian-topped brolly, she casts her spell with cool panache. Terse, tender and very otherworldly, she’s a Mary who keeps on giving – right through to her final flypast.

Strallen has a charming voice, too: dispatching songs with elegance and quaintly old-fashioned vibrato. She makes light work of clearing the kitchen while singing A Spoonful Of Sugar. 

She has a blast running the raucous alphabet reel of Su-percalifragilisticexpialidocious. And she stomps tunefully over the rooftops for the oompah of Chim Chim Cher-ee.

Strallen has a charming voice: dispatching songs with elegance and quaintly old-fashioned vibrato. She makes light work of clearing the kitchen while singing A Spoonful Of Sugar

Strallen has a charming voice: dispatching songs with elegance and quaintly old-fashioned vibrato. She makes light work of clearing the kitchen while singing A Spoonful Of Sugar

Strallen has a charming voice: dispatching songs with elegance and quaintly old-fashioned vibrato. She makes light work of clearing the kitchen while singing A Spoonful Of Sugar

But the other outstanding part of Sir Richard Eyre’s still slick production is the mesmerising choreography by Stephen Mear and Matthew Bourne. 

Their magic seems to extend beyond the big routines into the tiniest ticks and mannerisms of the actors, as though they were being operated by some supernatural force.

Bob Crowley’s grand design turns the dreamy setting of Cherry Tree Lane into an enchanting dolls’ house. 

Huge sides open up for the hall and staircase, while a stucco-fronted attic drops down for the children’s bedroom, before we are whisked across the smoking skyscape of fantasy Edwardian London. 

The set design is also impressive with Bob Crowley turning the dreamy setting of Cherry Tree Lane into an enchanting dolls¿ house

The set design is also impressive with Bob Crowley turning the dreamy setting of Cherry Tree Lane into an enchanting dolls¿ house

The set design is also impressive with Bob Crowley turning the dreamy setting of Cherry Tree Lane into an enchanting dolls’ house

The other outstanding part of Sir Richard Eyre¿s still slick production is the mesmerising choreography by Stephen Mear and Matthew Bourne. Pictured are Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp on stage on Wednesday

The other outstanding part of Sir Richard Eyre¿s still slick production is the mesmerising choreography by Stephen Mear and Matthew Bourne. Pictured are Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp on stage on Wednesday

The other outstanding part of Sir Richard Eyre’s still slick production is the mesmerising choreography by Stephen Mear and Matthew Bourne. Pictured are Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp on stage on Wednesday

Mary Poppins’s magic bag also delights, divulging a hat stand, houseplant and a teapot that attaches to a cup when it pours.

The extreme tilt of pillars at the bank gave me a touch of vertigo, and if the violence of colour in the first park scene threatened to bring on an attack of migraine, I was mercifully distracted by the dancing statuary.

As the uptight father Mr Banks, Joseph Millson is practically perfect, too. He starred in a play of mine earlier this year (full disclosure), but I hardly recognised him here and there’s a lovely playfulness beneath his sternly repressed exterior that explodes at the end.

Claire Moore, Adelaide Barham, Joseph Millson, Zizi , Charlie Stemp, Amy Griffiths, Gabriel Payne and Petula Clark are seen taking a bow after their performance on Thursday

Claire Moore, Adelaide Barham, Joseph Millson, Zizi , Charlie Stemp, Amy Griffiths, Gabriel Payne and Petula Clark are seen taking a bow after their performance on Thursday

Claire Moore, Adelaide Barham, Joseph Millson, Zizi , Charlie Stemp, Amy Griffiths, Gabriel Payne and Petula Clark are seen taking a bow after their performance on Thursday

Some of the most touching and weirdly haunting moments occur when Sixties pop icon Petula Clark drifts on as the Bird Woman (looking a bit like a dishevelled pigeon herself), selling seeds while singing the tearjerker Feed the Birds (Tuppence A Bag).

But this is mostly two-and-three-quarter hours of cheery, unalloyed escapism, typified by Charlie Stemp’s lovable cockney chimney sweep Bert, tap-dancing on the ceiling. Ooh yes, and he makes the horrors of Dick Van Dyke chewing his way through the London accent seem like a distant memory.

You have until the end of May to book.

Mary Poppins at The Prince Edward Theatre is on until the end of May. Pictured are Zizi and Charlie taking a bow

Mary Poppins at The Prince Edward Theatre is on until the end of May. Pictured are Zizi and Charlie taking a bow

Mary Poppins at The Prince Edward Theatre is on until the end of May. Pictured are Zizi and Charlie taking a bow

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