BBC Radio 7, 31 May 2010
Forget Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke and the Sherman Brothers' memorable songs; this adaptation returned to Travers' original 1934 book to create a world not dissimilar to that of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, broadcast earlier this month on Radio 7.
Mary Poppins (Juliet Stevenson) was a strong, matriarchal type of figure who tolerated no nonsense from the errant Banks children (Jonathan Dee, Sophie Stuckey). She provided a role-model, ensuring that they would be well brought-up and thereby saving their parents (David Timson, Deborah Berlin) further worry. At the same time Mary Poppins understood the importance of giving the children the space to develop their imagination; throughout David Ian Neville's production she took them on a magic carpet-ride of improbable adventures, encountering people such as Turvey (Andrew Sachs) who seemed familiar yet unaccountably strange. As a result the children became socialized; at once respectful of their parents yet appreciative of the time and space given to let their imaginations run riot.
This production also drew parallels between the children and their parents' lives. Mr. Banks was portrayed as a typical office-worker, working diligently at his tasks yet given little opportunity for advancement by his ogre-like employer. Saddled with the task of giving an after-dinner speech, immeditely after his younger (and more upwardly mobile) colleague Smart (Chris Moran), Mr. Banks began hesitantly, almost as if he knew he was not up to the task. Suddenly, however, he looked out of the window and saw a comet shining brightly in the sky - a symbol, perhaps, of his long-neglected imagination and its capacity to soar above the corporeal world into new flights of fancy. His speech changed radically; by the end of it, he had encouraged all the dinner-guests, including his boss, to stand on the table and look at the comet. Like his children, Banks had discovered that human existence did not solely depend on material things, but rather on the capacity of the imagination to discover new ideas, themes and ways of existence.
This adaptation of Mary Poppins undoubtedly had its feel-good elements, but nonetheless made important points about parenthood, and the ways in which adults can empathize with their children. Once the Banks family had discovered this important fact, they had no need for Mary Poppins any more - even though she left the door open at the end by implying that she might return to their house.