I can't let the end of Lee Mead's run in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang pass by without sharing a few thoughts - nor it seems could Lee's colleagues or indeed Lee himself! Andy Hockley's speech of farewell to two company members - Deputy Stage Manager Richard Lodge and of course "his boy" Lee - was very touching and Lee's response everything I have come to expect from him. You can listen to both below. Thanks also to Kathryn Barnes for compiling and sharing the company's video message to their departing lead.
here) so much as a tribute to a company who have given me so much joy over the past five months. I was thrilled when it was announced Lee would be taking on the role of Caractacus Potts in the latest UK tour of this magical tale - it has long held a special place in my heart, as it does for so many others - but I could not have imagined then just how much I would come to love this production.
Every member of a supremely talented cast brings something unique and special to the show, while the minimal but cleverly designed set takes you from windmill to beach, sewer to castle with a few moving parts and ingenious projections. Add to that a phenomenal 12-piece orchestra under the baton of musical director Andrew Hilton, and the small matter of a flying car... and you have a show that delights on every level.
I was lucky enough to see it many times during Lee's run, from his first night in Milton Keynes back in May to today's emotional final show at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and this gave me the chance to discover and delight in the detail as much as the big picture.
In sharing below some of the memories I take away with me, I mean no disrespect to those members of the cast not mentioned as ALL were superb! but, in vaguely chronological order, here are a few of the details that caught my eye and more generally the things that made me laugh, occasionally cry and always admire the skill of this fantastic company:
- the set flexing to adapt to different venues and the cast's ability (mostly!) to remember where their exit was this week
- Ewan Gillies' indignant defence of his tray of sweets from the marauding Potts children
- Edison's occasionally erratic meanderings
- Sam Harrison and Scott Paige's superb double-act as 'ze spies'
- Christopher Hunt's turkey puppetry
- Matt Gillett's magnificently sinister Childcatcher swirling his 'technicolor' cloak
- the sewer kids - all of them! though of course they did far more than simply lurk in the sewers. I was consistently impressed that a children's ensemble local to each venue was integrated so seamlessly into the show
- the delicious incongruity of Robert Wilkes giving us his Bombie Samba moves in full Vulgarian guard uniform
- Shaun Williamson's dancing teddybear (which I know many remember equally fondly)
- so much of Andy Hockley's Grandpa Potts - he speaks as loudly without words as with (a quality I also see in Lee).
And so many more. As for Lee... as I've said many times during the run, for me he was the perfect Potts. He brought such heart to the role, his relationship with Jeremy and Jemima (in all their incarnations) was utterly believable and immensely touching, his (and Jo Goodwin's) hard work in taming 'Me Ole Bamboo' proved once and for all that he CAN dance and I wholeheartedly concur with the many enthusiastic reviews of his "remarkable" "outstanding" "stunning" voice (to quote just a few). Applying the same 'laugh, cry, admire' criteria as above to Lee's performance brings to mind so many things, from tiny details to whole numbers. Here are just a few:
- conducting the toot sweet orchestra
- Hushabye - the whole scene, from "why aren't you two asleep" to the kiss of the music box... just exquisite
- his occasional James Bond-esque "Miss Scrumptious, we meet again..."
- that cap (see right) - thanks for tweeting it Lee!
- his almost imperceptible nod before claiming not to remember Truly's accusation of parental negligence
- sitting wide-eyed and disguised in the Toymaker's shop, occasionally clutching a wooden soldier... or a teddybear
- marching, saluting, stirring, inspiring in Teamwork
- his clown-suited waddle with the key to the music box
- that last note in the final curtain-call chorus of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
I could keep going, but I'd soon have listed the whole show as highlights and though that woudn't be far from the truth, I will simply say that this is without doubt my favourite of the roles Lee has played and, in my opinion, also his best performance to date and close now with a heartfelt thank you to Lee and the whole Chitty company. Though we have the October leg of his wonderful Some Enchanted Evening tour to look forward to in just two weeks' time, and the grandest panto in the land to follow, I do hope that the musical theatre stage beckons Lee again before too long - it has been a complete joy to see him back there.
Last updated: 20 September 2016