Dressing Mary Poppins

WIN: Tickets to Auckland's Civic Theatre

Last updated 08:59 03/09/2012
Bob Crowley
SET DESIGNER: Bob Crowley.

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There aren't many gaps on Bob Crowley's CV.  

The world-renowned theatrical set and costume designer has helped bring some of the biggest, and best, shows to life: Carousel, Aida, History Boys and even the stage version of Tarzan. He has also won almost every award going.

But when the Irishman was asked to tackle the story about a nanny with the magic touch, he had his doubts.

"I had trepidations about tackling Mary Poppins, the idea made me nervous. That film is one of my favourite childhood memories - I saw it three times when it came out.  

"It was kind of seminal - that world was magic to me as a child and it was one of the most wonderful things I had ever seen. So I was very nervous to take that famous thing and put it on the stage."

Luckily for audiences, Crowley decided to go for it and the result is staggering. While the stage show retains much of the magic of the original 1964 Disney film, there is a darker, more earthly feel to both the story from Cameron Mackintosh and Thomas Schumacher, and the physical world Crowley has created.

Alongside the delight of Mary's influence, there is a familiar, almost modern backdrop of a family struggling to pay the bills and stay together.

And from his very first sketch of 17 Cherry Tree Lane - the house that is as much of a character in the story as Mary, Michael, Jane and Bert - Crowley knew the role it would play in creating a world that was both magical and true to the story that unfolds on stage.

"It's the house that they could all be turfed out of if they can't pay the mortgage - they could all be on the street the next morning," he said.

"It was the very first thing I drew."

And while the story might be something many audience members can immediately relate to, Crowley promises there is more enchantment and wonder left on stage than even the film had.

"You try and keep the essence of [the film], but they are such different mediums that you can't even compete with the special effects they have in the cinema.
"I think what happens with TV and film now is that it's so super slick and so over CGI'd that nobody believes anything on screen any more, whereas you have to believe it on stage because it's live and it could go wrong. 

"And when it does go wrong that's kind of magic to because then you get people going away saying 'I was there when Mary got stuck in her harness for half an hour above our heads'."

With the number of times the show has been performed, it's not surprising hiccups have happened along the way.

Since first opening in December 2004 in London's West End, Mary Poppins has travelled around the UK, through America, Holland and enjoyed a two-year stint in Australia.

Now, it is New Zealand's turn, with the mammoth production venturing across the Tasman in October.

Crowley said the distance the show has travelled still amazes him.

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"When it was designed for the Prince Edward [Theatre] in London, how would I have known it would end up in your country?  You're lucky if it stays open in London for a couple of years.

"And soon it's going to Paris, Mexico... I can't believe it, I just can not believe it."

Mary Poppins opens at Auckland's Civic Theatre on October 13.  Tickets are available from Buy Tickets.


Auckland Now has two double passes to give away for the show on October 17. To be in to win simply email your name, address and phone number to news@aucklandnow.co.nz.

- Auckland Now

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