Some films are so ingrained in the popular mindset that it is impossible to imagine them being any different. In my head, Mary Poppins is Julie Andrews, all meringue-like white dress and sweetly trilled melody. Bert is Dick van Dyke, candy-striped, faux-Cockneyed, Holidaying Jollily. It’s a magic that’s increasingly scarce in today’s world.

So to attempt to stage such a cultural touchstone will always be a challenge. To do so in a school production is a confident move. To attempt to do so repeatedly is fairly brazen! Yet that’s what the staff and children at Highfield Middle School have done again with their new production of Mary Poppins. And, following on from The Lion King, Aladdin, The Grinch, and Beauty and the Beast, this show appears to be another roaring success.

The production team of Stu Rutherford and Lyndsay Gibson work together with the technical and backstage crew to really show what is possible within the confines of a school production. Direction is frequently inspired; lighting and sound design is excellent; costumes, props and scenery are as good as I have ever seen in a school show. Coupled with welcoming front-of-house and a brilliant atmosphere, this is one show that is well worth the ticket price.

The show has a split cast, which allows two sets of children their chance to shine, but choosing a stand out performance from a cast of such high quality would be nigh on impossible. All the leads tackled their roles with aplomb, from prim-and-proper Mary Poppins, to warm, friendly Bert; from troubled Mr and Mrs Banks to their bubbly and excitable children; from the sweetest street urchin to the maniacal Miss Andrews. They were supported throughout by an excellent supporting cast, providing powerful singing and some well-choreographed dance routines. Moreover, you could palpably feel the enjoyment and excitement that crackled through the cast throughout the entire performance. Shows like this are where the happiest memories are made.

As a former teacher, it fills me with wonder, admiration and more than a little envy at what the team here has accomplished. In a system of ever-tightening budgets, stringent targets and a culture where the data is more important than the child who produces it, Highfield Middle School’s focus on the arts (instilled by Head Teacher, Richard Oades, Head of Arts, Stu Rutherford, and Head of Music Lyndsay Gibson) provides a vision of how things in education could be. Watching the passion, teamwork and commitment that these young people show on stage, I defy anyone to deny the incalculable benefits that the creative subjects can have on children’s progress and well-being.

Yet again, Highfield Middle School’s production is a credit to all involved, the school, the parents and the community as a whole. And if that isn’t magic, I’ll eat my parrot-handled umbrella.

By Samantha Simpson