24th January 2022
Aren’t we due a bit of magic in our lives? Dianne Pilkington thinks so. She is starring in a brand-new production of ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ at Curve, Leicester, this month and tells Amander Meade about the production
‘It’s my first theatre job back,’ says the Wigan-born actor, who plays Miss Eglantine Price, the trainee witch. ‘It is fun, it is full of magic and it takes you on a different journey from the adventure we’ve been on for the last couple of years, which is what the world needs right now.’
The show is at Curve from Wednesday 9 to Saturday 19 February and it is the first ever stage adaptation of the 1971 Disney favourite. Dianne says the production is every bit as ground-breaking as the movie, with its famous blend of live action, animation and musical numbers.
‘The film was doing something new and innovative, and so are we,’ says the West End star, whose roles include Glinda in ‘Wicked’, Donna in ‘Mamma Mia!’ and Elizabeth in ‘Young Frankenstein’. ‘It is faithful to what people love about “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, but this creative team never make the obvious choice. They have an amazing creative brain.’
Set in the darkest days of World War II, the story is about the three Rawlins children, who have been evacuated from London. Finding themselves in the fictional Dorset town of Pepperinge Eye, they are put in the care of the eccentric Miss Price, who is less interested in looking after them than in completing her studies in magic. Before they know it, she is casting spells on their bed and sending them skywards on a magical adventure.
‘She’s very quirky,’ laughs Dianne. ‘She’s a woman who has lived on her own for a great amount of time and has not had much love for a really long time. We’ve been exploring the scary side, but there has to be a joy in her too. There’s a real relish in being an apprentice witch.’
Long before she got the part, Pilkington was an admirer of Angela Lansbury, who immortalised the role of Eglantine Price on film. She is, though, determined to make the part her own: ‘I’m a huge fan of hers but I’m not like her at all. Also, we’re in a different time. I’ve tried to come at it from a modern point of view, even though it’s still set in wartime.’
Dianne has the perfect sounding board in her eight-year-old son, Hugo. ‘I’ve shown him my magic tricks, and he doesn’t know how they’re done, which is gratifying. He’s convinced the broom is on rocket boosters and he could be right – who will ever know?’
The art of magic
Bringing her up to speed on the art of magic is co-director Jamie Harrison. He’s the man who created the stage illusions in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and once had to perform a magic trick for JK Rowling herself. In making the switch to the stage, ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ has become what Jamie refers to as an emotionally powerful journey about belonging, commitment and family. It is a shift in emphasis that made Dianne more determined than ever to get the part. ‘When I first read the script, I bawled my eyes out for the last 10 minutes, to the point when my husband was quite worried,’ she says. ‘What they’ve done with the story is incredibly moving.’
As well as the original score, the show features Sherman brothers’ songs that were dropped from the film, plus new material by Neil Bartram, who has worked closely with Brian Hill on the stage adaptation. With the additional songs, it has become a full-blown musical. ‘Substitutiary Locomotion’ is one of the best numbers I’ve ever sung,’ says Dianne. ‘I get so excited, I actually do believe I’m magic and casting a spell. When you’re in the middle of that on stage it’s fabulous.’