BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Bedknobs, broomsticks and the apprentice witch preparing to rise


Dianne Pilkington was first enchanted by witchcraft growing up in West Lancashire.

And that fascination would serve her well as she lands the most sought-after musical role in years: witch trainee Miss Eglantine Price in the upcoming musical Bedknobs And Broomsticks, a role first made famous by Angela Lansbury in the movie from 1971.

The story follows the three Rawlins children, who are evacuated from London and billeted with the eccentric Miss Price. How eccentric only becomes clear when they see her trying out her new broom. . . high in the sky at night.

Many adventures follow, culminating in the children helping Eglantine thwart an invasion.

Pilkington goes to great lengths to point out that she’s playing Miss Price – and not the legendary Dame Angela, who was signed on to play the student sorceress while another Disney Dame, Julie Andrews, buzzed and shuddered about the role.

Dianne Pilkington was first enchanted with witchcraft growing up and that fascination would serve her well as she tackles Miss Eglantine Price in the upcoming musical Bedknobs And Broomsticks

“I’m not Angela Lansbury,” the actress, whose own impressive 20-year career has also included playing Belle in Beauty And The Beast; Donna in Mamma Mia!; and Raquel in the stage version of Only Fools And Horses, said resolutely. “So it will have to be something from my version of Eglantine.”

Her take on Miss Price is that although she believes in the spells she receives from Professor Emelius Browne’s correspondence course in witchcraft, “she is always a little surprised when they work.”

The creative team — led by co-directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison; writer Brian Hill and Neil Bartram, who simpatico new music and lyrics for songs created for the picture by brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman – will adhere to Mary Norton’s original children’s books, as well as the movie inspired by them.

Growing up in Wrightington near Wigan, Pilkington said she was fascinated by stories of the 17th-century witch trials at Pendle, on the other side of the Ribble Valley. “They’re in my blood,” she told me.

“When I read a novel, I’m drawn to something of that kind—and those kinds of movies.”

The actress, who is married with one child (eight-year-old Hugo), is even in professional witch form after playing Glinda in Wicked in the West End (although Glinda never had to jump a broom).

We were chatting on the second day of pre-rehearsals for Bedknobs, in Canary Wharf. All cast and creatives were present. And co-director Harrison was clearly a happy man. “It’s just so exciting to be in a room again and stop theorizing,” he sighed.

Angela Lansbury leads the charge in the 1971 film version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Angela Lansbury leads the charge in the 1971 film version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks

There were still concessions to Covid. I was not allowed through the door without a negative test. But enough of the tricky but necessary protocols that rule our lives.

The real question is: can Eglantine Price take off on her broomstick? “We’ve already looked at flies,” Pilkington said gravely, before bursting into a big smile. ‘And. . . it’s really fun!’ But no aerodynamic secrets will be revealed until producers Michael Harrison and Thomas Schumacher (president of the Disney Theatrical Group) premiere the show on August 14 at the Theater Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

It then goes on a tour of 26 venues, ending at the Belfast Opera House next May. And after that, there is already talk of a West End run.

Harrison told me that Pilkington made a broom-powered flight “like a duck in water.” And there’s obviously been a lot of discussion about etiquette. ‘Step two of broom flying,’ said Pilkington, tongue in cheek, ‘is always taking an elegant, sideways stance.’

Basically maybe. But not in practice.

“The practicality of flying with any skill means she’ll have to find different positions on that broom!” she admitted. “I think the costume department has been very sensitive to that.”

Co-director Edmunds endorses that emotion. “We have a very modern Eglantine, and she sits on the broom like a modern woman would!”

Anyway, Eglantine must be in control as she leads the attack from above, singing the big song Forward (written by Bartram), after activating the Substitute (six syllables, otherwise the magic won’t work) Locomotion Spell that animates inanimate objects.

Bedknobs' co-director Jamie Harrison will stick to Mary Norton's original children's books

Bedknobs’ co-director Jamie Harrison will stick to Mary Norton’s original children’s books

Harrison, who created the illusions for Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, explained that the magic of the show is evoked from the imaginations of the children: Charlie, Carrie and Paul (keeper of the enchanted bed knob that allows the bed to fly).

The co-director said the cast will help with the tricks and illusions, giving the impression that they are “hand-held rather than technological.”

To demonstrate this, he quickly clicked a small device hidden in the palm of his hand – and 20 ft streamers shot over the company, like octopus tentacles.

The magic in Bedknobs is ‘scrappier’, agrees writer Bartram. “It’s more human.”

Pilkington announced that she would practice her skills on her son at home. “Rabbits,” she said mysteriously.

Muriel leads lady rejoins the the bridle party

Audiences fell in love with Toni Collette in her breakout movie, Muriel’s Wedding, in 1994. And now Collette is head over heels in love with her co-star Beau in the movie Dream Horse.

The handsome fellow plays the title character in some of the movie’s quieter scenes.

‘I’m in love with Beau. He’s my acting dream!’ said the Australian-born actress, contradicting WC Fields’ maxim that you should never work with children or animals. “He looks at me, completely agrees and knows what to do.”

In the film, Collette plays Jan Vokes, a woman who works three jobs – and also cares for her disabled husband and parents – who forms a syndicate in a Welsh village to buy and train an unlikely racehorse.

Toni Collette has fallen head over heels for her four-legged co-star Beau in the movie Dream Horse, calling him her 'acting dream'

Toni Collette has fallen head over heels for her four-legged co-star Beau in the movie Dream Horse, calling him her ‘acting dream’

The story is true and the horse – Dream Alliance, to give him his professional name – won the Welsh Grand National.

She said it was ‘very profound to work with him’ [Beau]because he is gentle and gentle’.

That may have something to do with the fact that I was once, long ago, dragged across the beach with my foot caught in a stirrup. Fortunately there was sand, so I was seriously injured.’ But then again, she also had what she called a “spiritual moment” when she was on a friend’s property in Ireland, surrounded by a herd of wild horses, 30 strong. “It was like we all shared the same vibe,” she recalls.

Collette – whose many other film credits include Knives Out, About A Boy and The Sixth Sense – made the Warner Bros and Film4 production, which is directed by Euros Lyn, in and around Rhymney in South Wales. Owen Teale, Damian Lewis and Sian Phillips also star in the film, which hits theaters today.

Meanwhile, Collette has just signed up to star alongside Colin Firth, Juliette Binoche and Sophie Turner in the new HBO Max crime drama The Staircase, based on a true murder mystery set in North Carolina.

Beware of…

Choreographer Lynne Page, which includes indie music star Nadine Shah, will perform her 2020 track Trad – about societal pressures on women – in her short film Lyssa (the goddess of wrath), featuring 17 dancers from the Royal Ballet.

Page was able to perform her passionate piece on the stage of the Royal Opera House, and she skillfully uses the space to explore, in dance form, some of the pent-up female anger we also saw in Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. .

Lyssa, directed by Anthoula Syndica-Drummond, can be viewed for free from today via as part of the Royal Ballet’s Our House To Your House season.

Choreographer Lynne Page features 17 dancers from the Royal Ballet in her short film Lyssa (the goddess of wrath)

Choreographer Lynne Page features 17 dancers from the Royal Ballet in her short film Lyssa (the goddess of wrath)

Jerry Rothwell’s British Film Institute documentary The Reason I Jump, which follows five young people – on four continents – with nonverbal autism.

The powerfully eloquent film is inspired by the book of the same name, which Naoki Higashida wrote in 2007, when he was 13, to try to explain what was going on inside his head and in the minds of others like him.

A parent of a British teenager tells how for their child ‘to bring the chaos of the world into a kind of coherent order’.

That’s just one of the many reasons why you should see Picturehouse Entertainment’s release in theaters June 18.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a harrowing firecracker of a movie, premieres June 12 at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco.

It’s a blow to the people of Sheffield – where the film starring Max Harwood, Richard E. Grant and Sarah Lancashire is set – which was promised its first showing.

No doubt something will be arranged for the city before the photo streams on Amazon Prime starting September 17th.