Wheels fall off Chitty

~ This is London - 18/04/02 by Luke Leitch ~

It's the £750,000 wonder-car that drives, floats and even flies, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has shown that old bangers, even magical ones, break down.

Hundreds of theatregoers - many of them children and pensioners - were left disappointed and confused last night when a computer problem left the shiny-bonnetted star of the new £6.5 million musical languishing in the pits, forcing its producers to cancel the evening's performance.

The breakdown comes the day after the musical's hugely successful world premiere at the Palladium. Last night, however, it was less Triumph and more Austin Allegro as aggrieved theatregoers from across the country were left milling around the streets of Soho waiting for the show to start - but to no avail.

Londoner Edward King, 26, joined nine members of his family including his grandmother, who had travelled from Hampshire to see the show. He said: "We got there half-an-hour before the show started and all the doors to the auditorium were shut.

"The staff said the doors would open in 15 minutes, but 15 minutes later they said the same, and 15 minutes after that the same again. There was definitely a lot of confusion - they didn't know what was going on."

Mr King, who works in the City and like the rest of his party paid £40 for his ticket, added: "People were getting quite irate and some were shouting at the stewards."

At around 8:15pm the performance was officially cancelled. All of last night 's theatregoers have been offered a full refund or seats at another performance. Theresa Carrod, 31, an accounts supervisor from Letchworth, came by coach with 21 friends to see Chitty fly last night - but was left standing outside the theatre singing in the rain.

At 10pm she and her friends were still waiting for their coach driver. She said: "There have been thousands of people wondering what is going on. It's raining and it's freezing cold and we were all so looking forward to seeing the show too. I will try to see it - or at least nearly see it - again."

One of Ms Carrod's party received a special apology from the show's star Michael Ball. Ms Carrod said: "We saw Michael leave at the stage door and he was very apologetic. He spoke to Kelly, who suffers from Down's Syndrome and he told her how sorry he was."

Michael Rose, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's co-producer, said: "All of the cast and crew are so sorry that so many people have been disappointed tonight. It is very embarrassing. We reinstalled a component in the computer system that runs Chitty this afternoon. Unfortunately the new component did not align with the system and the computer - not to mention Chitty herself - effectively crashed.

"We worked all afternoon trying to fix the bug, and we cracked it at around 10pm. But we had to cancel the show earlier because otherwise so many people would not have been able to get their trains and coaches home afterwards."

Mr Rose, whose show has already taken around £10million at the box office and has this week been adding more than £500,000 to that total every day, added: "Tomorrow's performances will go ahead - Chitty is no primadonna and she will be up and running like a dream."


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