Why "Mary Poppins" is a Love Letter to London

As Mary Poppins sings and dances her way into the West End in this new musical adaptation, we look at why she is London’s favourite nanny.

London is every bit the star of PL Travers’ books as Mary Poppins herself. London provides the perfect backdrop to this most enchanting of tales. From the moment the umbrella-toting nanny is seen flying over the city in the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews, to the opening scenes of the sequel in 2018, "Mary Poppins Returns", the films showcase our famous landmarks.

Emily Blunt, who took the title role in the sequel, rightly called the blockbuster "a love letter to London".

Primrose Hill, London, UK
Primrose Hill, which features so prominently in Mary Poppins, is a popular area for locals. (©Xavier Arnau/iStock)

The city’s architecture – like the stucco-fronted buildings of Kensington and Chelsea and the Regency houses near Regent’s Park – undoubtedly provided the inspiration for the fictional home of the Banks family (they lived at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. And it’s easy to imagine the Banks children flying a kite on Primrose Hill.

Blue plaque for P.L.Travers in London, UK
The blue plaque marking the home of Mary Poppins author, Pamela Lyndon Travers, who lived close to where the story was set. (©English Heritage)

Mary Poppins’ London

One of the original film’s most iconic moments is set at the London landmark found in Michael’s snow globe. St Paul’s Cathedral is the setting for one of
the Sherman Brothers’ most beautiful songs, "Feed the Birds", where we see a woman sitting on the cathedral’s steps famously selling crumbs for ‘tuppence a bag’.

Petula Clarke, London, UK
The much-loved British actress Petula Clarke plays the bird seed seller in the new stage version of Mary Poppins. (courtesy Petula Carke)

The role of the bird woman is taken by Petula Clark in the upcoming musical extravaganza, which opens at the Prince Edward Theatre (23 Oct-29 March 2020).

Zizi Strallen, who plays Mary Poppins on stage, is looking forward to singing with the British legend during what she admits is her favourite song. "It’s going to be the most beautiful moment," she says.

What do its stars say?

Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp, who play Mary Poppins and Bert in Cameron Mackintosh’s upcoming stage production, discuss how they want to bring a little bit of magic into people’s lives.

"I’ve been waiting a year to play this role again and there’s nothing like it," says Strallen. "There’s a lot of pressure in playing Mary Poppins because everyone has their version of Mary in their head. She’s a character that has been loved for generations."

"My version of Mary is a bit cheeky and she has this brilliant way of getting around to proving that she knew best. I think Emily Blunt captured this really well, and there’s a lovely quality about Julie Andrews’ performance, too."

Mary Poppins on stage, London, UK
The new stage show, Mary Poppins the Musical, at Prince Edward Theatre. (©Mary Poppins the Musical)

Charlie Stemp is also a huge can of the original film. "I had a video of the film when I was younger and I watched it so many times that we wore out the tape. This is the role I’ve wanted to play since I was a kid. Dick Van Dyke is one of my idols and his portrayal of Bert was loved by kids because he was just so joyous.

"Bert has this wonderful ability to be happy with his lot in life and as soon as he comes on stage he immediately makes you smile. That’s something I really connect with because I love to do that, too."

"I’ve been practising Bert’s cockney accent for the past 25 years and it’s been going alright so far," laughs Stemp. "I was born and bred in southeast London and I don’t really realise how Cockney I am until I go home."

What can audiences expect?

"Look out for some incredible magic tricks, a beautiful set and excellent music," says Strallen. "There is this lovely feeling of family, bringing everyone together and the beautiful moral of the story: that everyone should look out for each other and appreciate each other."

Mary Poppins the Musical. 23 October to 29 March 2020. Prince Edward Theatre, Old Compton St, W1D 4HS.
T: 0844-482 5151.

Mary Poppins and Bert, London, UK
Mary Poppins and Bert, the two main characters in the new musical. (©Seamus Ryan)