James Brining, always a genial, welcoming presence at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, has a different look in his eyes today. There is some serious determination etched on his face.
He’s still welcoming and friendly, but he has the look you might see on the face of an actor playing Henry V when they are a couple of scenes away from the St Crispin’s Day speech. He’s got something big ahead of him and you can see why he was an ideal choice to take the helm at the West Yorkshire Playhouse – he’s clearly a leader of men. Or rather, in this case, a leader of men, women, children and a very famous car.
Brining is right in the eye of the storm of rehearsals for a major new production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He’s the director of a show and a story that means so much to so many. Much loved? Not half. Little wonder Brining looks determined. He’s essentially, in this festive season, been given charge of bringing to life a slice of almost everyone’s childhood.
Few will remember many festive seasons passing without sitting down to the adventures of Caractacus Potts, his children, his father and their very special car.
Many will also remember hiding behind the sofa when the Child Catcher appeared. “It’s a big show,” says Brining as he wolfs down his lunch at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. He admits that the workload of the past year – he’s directed The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Sweeney Todd twice, once for the Playhouse and once for the Welsh National Opera, and Alan Bennett’s Enjoy and now Chitty – has been a bit much.
But then he has decided to direct a new production of Sondheim’s epic Into the Woods next summer in a collaboration with Opera North.
Later, in the rehearsal room, Brining is buzzing as he watches the huge team – and it is massive – pull together one of the final rehearsals of Chitty. This is clearly where he thrives. “It’s really exciting as a director, pulling all of this together,” he says as scenery is shoved around the rehearsal room on huge trolleys. “It’s not just the acting you’re bringing together, but all the music, the lighting, the technical bits.”
Not just for him. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the Ian Fleming book that inspired a 1968 musical movie, produced by Albert Broccoli, he of the James Bond franchise. Albert’s daughter Barbara took over the reins – she now produces the Bond movies and has a firm hand on the rights for Chitty. A stage musical received its world premiere in 2002 at the London Palladium. It transferred to Broadway, toured the UK and Australia – and is now in Yorkshire. It’s a big responsibility on Brining’s shoulders. Here’s why he’s excited and not cowed by the task. “It’s a really special time of year, everyone wants to come to the theatre with their families and there is a brilliant atmosphere around the building,” he says.
“We’ve sold 40,000 tickets already, so it’s already breaking box office records and we’re expecting it to become one of the best selling shows we’ve had.”
• December 2 to January 30. 0113 2137700. www.wyp.org.uk