A TRIP to the theatre, especially for children, can be a magical experience. But a trip to see Bedknobs and Broomsticks when it opens at The Lowry next week takes that magic to a whole new level.

There’s a flying bedstead, a witch on a broom and a wonderful array of eccentric characters and colourful puppets which bring a whole new dimension to the show based on the hugely popular film which is now more than 50 years old.

Dianne Pilkington is trainee witch Miss Eglantine Price who finds herself responsible for the three Rawlins children evacuated from London during the war.

Having starred in the West End in shows such as Mamma Mia, Wicked and Les Miserable Wigan-born Dianne is one of the theatre’s leading ladies but even she has been left spellbound by her latest role.

“Personally this role is exceptional,” she said. “I’m going to have a very hard job of letting go of Eglantine when the time finally comes. It’s just such fun.”


MAGICAL: Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)

MAGICAL: Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)


The show is packed with jaw dropping visual effects created by the team behind Back to the Future and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and as part of that Jennie has to fly on her broom every night.

“Oh I love my broom,” she laughed. “It’s been a bit of a love hate relationship at times because it can be pretty painful, particularly when it smacks me in the face as has happened once or twice, but I think I’ve got my advanced broom certificate now.

“I particularly enjoy the matinees when the theatre is full of children and seeing their faces when this broom suddenly takes off and they realise it seems to have a mind of its own is just wonderful.”

As if flying a broom wasn’t hard enough, Dianne also has to sing while she’s in the air.

“That was challenging, certainly at first,” she said. “You’re trying to master two different disciplines at the same time. One is hanging on for dear life and the other is trying to relax - one requires a lot of core strength but and singing requires you to let go of your core and any tension.


Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)

Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)


“I did a lot of running during lockdown as I found that really helped with my mental state. When I was auditioning for this and when we got to the rehearsal stage, I’d go out for a run then when I was halfway round and really out of breath I’d start singing along with the music that I was listening to. Lord knows what they think of me round my local area but I’d sing at the top of my voice to see what happened. At first I could hardly sing at all but I found a way of breathing which means I can now sing and fly a broom at the same time.”

Dianne spends a lot of time airborne, when she’s not on her broom, there’s the show’s famous flying bedstead.

“That really is magic,” she says by way of explanation of how that’s possible. She has also had to learn some quite complicated slight of hand magic tricks.

At one point Eglantine and Emelius - played by Charles Brunton - end up on an island surrounded by a variety of strange animals and perform their own version of an end of the pier routine complete with magic tricks.


Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)

Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)


“Chris Fisher who taught us was just the most patient man. He took these two complete novices and made us capable of doing some pretty tricky slight of hand magic,” said Dianne. “Charlie and I have told him we’re going to apply to join the Magic Circle!”

For anyone familiar with the original film, one scene isn’t coming to the stage - the cartoon football match.

“I think everyone had enough to go getting a bed to fly and some of the other fantastic visual effects,” said Dianne. “Plus in the film it was almost there simply because they could do, it didn’t really add too much to the plot. We have got a totally different scene which is brilliant and everyone loves.”

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is returning to the North West after selling out at Manchester’s Palace Theatre in October.

“It’s great,” said Dianne, “we’re getting double Manchester which is lovely. It also gives all those people who didn’t get the chance to come and see us another opportunity.”


Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)

Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)


From the stage Dianne has been touched by the different generations - often from the same family - who have come to watch the show.

“The show is essentially about the healing power of family,” she said. “If lockdown showed us anything it was that we need to be with people we love and to see that happen in the theatre is so special.”

Lockdown also helped Dianne prepare for her role of Eglantine who, initially, is not exactly the most welcoming to her new charges.


Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)

Dianne Pilkington in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Picture: Johan Persson)


“At the beginning the director said to think of her as the worst home schooling parent imaginable,” said Dianne. “I was like ‘oh, I can do that’ because it turns out I am no teacher. I love my son to bits and we have a great relationship but trying to teach him something was really stressful.

“I was not my best self when I was trying to teach my son during lockdown that’s for sure.”

One of the challenges for Dianne is not to make Eglantine too much like a cartoon character.

“There’s a very fine line to tread,” she said. “She is magical and stylised; she’s fairly eccentric and swings from one mood to the next and could easily become cartoonish. The key is to always remember the story we are trying to tell and that stops you from going too far.”

Children being evacuated due to war has become a theme all too familiar with us all over the last couple of weeks which makes the storyline all the more poignant.

“In rehearsals we talked about what it must have been like for children being evacuated and leaving their families behind and just look what has happened,” said Jennie. “But this is such a positive show. It is a very special show and unlike anything I’ve done before.”

Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, March 15 to Saturday, March 19. Details from www.thelowry.com