RSC director back with a bang

~ Guardian - 17/04/02 by Maeve Kennedy ~

Film stars, a James Bond, several Bond girls, well wishers, ill wishers, dog fanciers and the frankly curious swarmed around the London Palladium last night, to see how Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble got on at his holiday job. It was, to any collector of edgy first nights, a truly scrumptious occasion.

The hype for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the £6m stage adaptation of Ian Fleming's successful 1968 children's film, was almost overwhelmed by the clouds gathering around the director's head.

As Mr Noble worried about how to make a car fly and stop the dogs from biting the cast, his home company was riven with bitter disputes over his plans for its future, which include demolishing the listed Stratford-upon-Avon theatre and abandoning the Barbican, its London base. There have been threats of industrial action, board resignations, directors walking out on the eve of productions and dire reviews.

Mr Noble, rehearsing the most technically complex show to hit the West End since the helicopters in Miss Saigon, missed all the fun, though the RSC assured critics he was in constant touch.

Last night was a full glamour frocks and rocks first night such as the RSC has not seen for some time. Among the guests were stars of the film, including Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley who played the children and did not go on to fame and fortune, and Sally Ann House, the original Truly Scrumptious, admiring the stage performance of 18-year-old Emma Williams in her first big role.

Richard and Robert Sherman wrote the score for the film - and other unforgettable hits including Mary Poppins - and, now in their 70s, wrote seven new songs for the stage.

The heavy Bond contingent, including Oscar winning former Bond girl Halle Berry and the current 007, Pierce Brosnan, came from the curious overlap between the children's fantasy and the spy thrillers - both were written by Ian Fleming, produced by the legendary Cubby Broccoli, and featured many of the same design and special effects teams. The stage show producer is Barbara Broccoli, Cubby's daughter, who appeared fleetingly in the fairground scene in the film.

With advance takings of £8m, the show is virtually critic proof, far more so than Mr Noble's career. The car flew, but it is yet to be seen whether the Child Snatcher will bag the director.


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