Video: The driving force behind Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Rachel BullerWith an enormous cast of adults, children and dogs, and a famous magical car stealing the limelight, life on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is never dull. Rachel Buller spoke to actor Richard Ashton about his role in the rollercoaster musical, coming to Norwich soon.Rachel Buller
It is loved by children and their grandparents alike. From the magical 1960s film to the ambitious action-packed stage show, the story of the wondrous car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has wowed audiences the world over.
Later this month, a new adaptation of the show comes to Norwich Theatre Royal for a two-week run, telling the story of eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts and his two children Jeremy and Jemima as they try to outwit the dastardly Baron and the evil Childcatcher with the help of a magical car.
Locally trained actor Richard Ashton plays Boris - one of the Baron's spies - in the production and says that the show has lost none of its magic over the years.
Despite a long stage, television and film career, he has never appeared in Chitty before and says he jumped at the chance.
'I came back from America to do it, there was no hesitation despite it being such a long tour. I just thought, absolutely yes. I am 43 now so I was three when the film first came out and for people of my age it is iconic, I remember it so clearly, my older brother had the toy car and everything.
'I think it's fair to say my character is one of the comedy baddies. I am Bulgarian who pretends to be English, it is a pastiche really of how the rest of the world sees English people.'
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Despite the impressive technical behind the scenes wizardry of the show, Richard believes the appeal of the show is not just down to the special effects.
'There is a big trend towards very mechanised shows. But Chitty is about more than that. The car is spectacular, it really is, as is all of the engineering work that has gone into it, but it is one element of a very big show. The car is the star undoubtedly, but it is about creating the character of the car on the stage, making it come alive through what is happening with the actors and actresses and songs around it,' he says.
'It is essentially a show about things being helped and mended, about families that were not functioning being made to function again, and Chitty is the means by which it happens.
He said despite the show featuring a magical car, children and animals, it was an incredibly smooth operation.
'Surprisingly it is not chaos, it is incredibly well produced. I think when people joke about not working with children and animals, what they really mean is that they will steal the show from us and that we'll need to up our game to match them. The kids in this show are absolutely brilliant and our job is to come up to that level. Even when there are 30 of us on stage, plus a giant magical car and 10 dogs, it doesn't feel chaotic,' he laughs.
Richard graduated from the UEA in Norwich in 1987 and spent many years working for various theatre companies and in various performances around the region.
He now spends the majority of his time working in America, but says coming back to Norwich is like 'coming home'.
'I graduated from UEA and I stayed around for a fair while afterwards. I love the city and love coming back to visit and work.
'I was a regular working at the Theatre Royal, behind the scenes, on stage, during my student days and also I did some work with Dick Condon, before he died, at Sheringham Little Theatre.
'I honestly don't think I would have made it as an actor if it hadn't have been for the incubation period I spent in Norfolk, putting on shows in pubs and outdoor spaces, and doing some great performances at some of the National Trust properties around the county,' he added.
As well as Richard's local link, the production also uses an army of local children whenever it gets to a new town. While it is in Norfolk there will be youngsters from the Stagecoach theatre schools from across the region taking part.
t Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday August 18 until Saturday September 5. For ticket information contact the box office on 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
t The movie began life as the personal dream of James Bond producer Albert Cubby Broccoli. The co-author of the screenplay is children's author Roald Dahl.
t The stage version opened to rave reviews at the London Palladium in 2002. It became the longest-running show, beating Oliver! and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
t The London Palladium production cost more than �300,000 a week to run. It includes the songs Truly Scrumptious, Toot Sweets, Hushabye Mountain and the Oscar-nominated title song Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
t The Chitty car holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive stage-prop in the history of British theatre. It cost �750,000 and took two companies a total of nine months to create.
t This current tour has cost �3m to stage. This includes �500,000 worth of costumes for the show. It takes 12 x 45ft trucks to move the show in the UK.
t Around 100 people are employed to move the show and set it up for each new venue.