Playing Mr Banks in Mary Poppins

Thank you to all you students who have been so accommodating during the final weeks of Mary Poppins rehearsals. Our production opened on Saturday at Claudelands Arena to rapturous applause and glowing reviews. I am loving playing the role of Mr Banks.

Several past and current students are performing in this magical production  including Eli Oliver, Sophie Nairn, Adam Nachowitz, Jackson Jaine and Sarah Nathan.

Tickets are available here. The season runs until 9 December.

Photographs from our production and review below.

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Review by Sam Edwards

What: Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical
​Who: Hamilton Operatic Society
When: November 25 to December 9
Where: Claudelands Arena
Director: David Sidwell
Musical cirector: Timothy Carpenter
Choreographer: Sonja McGirr-Garrett
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

I raced back from Katikati to be in time for the opening bars of Mary Poppins, Hamilton Operatic’s long-awaited return to high tech, big stage performance. In Katikati, I had listened to an early musical, Handel’s Messiah, being presented from an original parlour performance edition published in 1784 for use in house concerts. Both works are musical theatre based on character driven stories, most of which emerge through songs sung by choral groups and soloists. Both deliver high drama. Both were about the human condition and the wish for a guardian angel, or God, or some supernatural being to look after humans when they get into trouble.

Both are huge audience pullers, up there with La Traviata and Les Miserables. Sung stories are big time and the idea of music-driven storytelling has been around for generations. On Saturday night, though, Hamilton Operatic set a new level of presentation, despite being forced to use the much maligned – and rightfully so – Claudelands Arena, as it is the only amphitheatre large enough to mount this show successfully.

Director David Sidwell used the arena space to set up a temporary proscenium stage where the action on stage could be focussed and defined. He then had the experienced John Harding design a mobile set which moves like magic and permits – nay, actively encourages – the cast to perform some of the most complicated, stage-filling, and difficult choreography while also focusing faultlessly in scenes where only one or two characters may be performing.

It was also a traditional set-up with a live orchestra pit, something the electronic whizz-kids have tended to delete from their toolboxes. The pit is wonderful for audience interest, it happens to separate the stage action from the audience in a way which hugely advantages the suspension of disbelief, and of singular importance, it gives the audience a direct line between ear and instrument. That connection is an experience like no other. What a tragedy that the murderous accoustics of the arena required rock performance enhancement.

It is a practice which takes all the individual instrumental frequencies which give the music its real life and beauty, and offers in return perfectly flattened perfect pitch. Combine that with rock concert volume, and an ongoing difficulty in locating the source of sung solo sound or dialogue, and the wonderfully moving sentiment of the Mary Poppins narrative gives way to mere spectacle.

It is an ongoing problem, and Saturday night’s performance was the more remarkable for the quality of acting and of the music. Voices like the magnificent baritone from Scot Hall as George Banks and the perfectly cast and superbly delivering soprano of his stage wife, Winifred, played by Jayne Tankersley, and their two stage children, Ava Downey as Jane, and Ollie Neil as her young brother Michael, quite magically bound the show together.

This version of the Broadway production is sharper, more intensely honest about human nature, more genuine than the rather saccharine original, and it benefits from it. But in the end, dear reader, the magic was in the choreography.

Sonja McGirr-Garrett had the cast, some trained dancers, other trained actors, and others amateurs in the show for sheer love of theatre, moving on stage in the kaleidoscopic patterns which usually come across as a chaotic jumble. McGirr-Garrett produced a string of visual wonders and captivating moments. From the early trio in, I think, Practically Perfect, where they were actually perfect, to dance sequences culminating in the extraordinary Playing the Game, where flexibly agile dolls kept moving from chaos to sheer beauty of form and back again, the choreography was the most rewarding, the most imaginatively breathtaking, and the most professionally pure I have observed on a Hamilton stage.

I have run out of honest adjectives. Just go and see it for yourself.


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