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Martin Callaghan - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Interview

Interview by Mark Johnson

A brand-new production of the beloved classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is currently out on tour. Directed by Thom Southerland with choreography by Karen Bruce and designed by Morgan Large. The fantasmagorical adventure delights audiences wherever it visits.

The musical is based on the timeless story by Ian Fleming and made famous by the 1969 movie which starred Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. With a soundtrack by the Sherman Brothers and songs including Hushabye Mountain, Truly Scrumptious, Toot Sweets, Me Ol' Bamboo and the Academy Award-nominated title song.

The touring production stars Adam Garcia as Caratacatus Potts, Liam Fox as Granda Potts, and Ellie Nunn as Truly Scrumptious with Charlie Brooks and Elaine C. Smith sharing the role of The Childcatcher. Martin Callaghan takes on the role of the Baron in the production alongside Jenny Gayner as Baroness.

Martin Callaghan.

Ahead of the production arriving at the Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday 2nd until Sunday 7th July, I sat down to catch up with Martin to learn more about the show and the role. Having first met on the Sound of Music 2010 tour and shared many conversations on social media. This was truly like catching up with an old friend with lots of laughter shared (and bits that I simply couldn't include here!)

Our chat began with Martin referencing the fact I was wearing a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang t-shirt that I bought during the run at the London Palladium back in the mid-2000s and the fact that I work at Curve as an usher where the tour will visit in November.

"I can't wait to get to the Curve actually. It's the first time I'll have been there. There are two theatres on this tour that I've never ever been to, Eden Court in Inverness and Leicester Curve so I'm really looking forward to it"

I ask Martin to introduce himself for the chat despite the fact we already know each other.
"This is where actors get put on the spot. They always go I don't know because they play so many different roles. Me, as a person, I just try and keep things light and funny. If there's a silence I will try and fill it with a joke. I don't think there is a need in this life to be serious completely all of the time."

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
"I didn't for a long time. I was coming to the end of secondary school, I was going to be a writer because I had all these ideas about characters I thought I wanted to write about. Then it became increasingly clear I didn't want to write about them, I wanted to play them. That became more evident when I went to see Working Girl, of all things. I thought I really wanted to work in an office. So I went and got a job in an office where it became clear I was absolutely not fit to do that. I know what it is, I want to play somebody who works in an office. Then I had to figure out how to do that."

How do you reflect on the journey of your career so far?
"I was discussing this the other day. You never go 'wow what a great career I've had'. You never do. You see that path over there, that's the path I should be on and that's a terrible thing because you should never think like that. So you never look at your own career and go well done me, you just go 'I should have done this'. I have more recently well actually it's been pretty good."

"Mainly because someone, and I always thought nobody liked the Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in which Martin played Asher) movie. I thought everybody hated it. When it first came out people basically said it's terrible. Since then people are telling me they used to watch it all the time as a kid. The worst thing is that it's mostly the people I work with now. You don't ever see your career as being a thing of wow that went well. You just see it as a series of events, good and bad, and you don't really have a thought about it. Now I do and I think I've done pretty well."

Chitty in flight. Photo by Adam Coltas.

You have, you've done amazing so far. Now you're in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My friends will know but it was my comfort film in lockdown, I could watch it 2 or 3 times a day! 
"We've followed each other on Twitter for a long while. Then I met you when you were working at Leicester Haymarket whilst I was in Curtains and it was literally a day later. So basically I blame you Mark! We were chatting and then we did our first show and the next day they went on your bike and that was it."

"But yes, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I don't think any of it makes any sense but it is the best fun that you can have at the theatre. Some people have said it's a little bit panto, well no it's like if panto were supersized and made technically perfect. It's brilliant, it really is."

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, what can you tell me about the role of the Baron?
"He is a massive child who wants his own way on a constant basis and very rarely gets it. His wife is also quite strong in what she wants. I think they have the best relationship in the show because it's flirty, it's veering close to dominatrix but it's very family-friendly. He wants his own way and cries when he doesn't get it but is one of those people who is in a dangerous position of power. He's like a thirteen-year-old who has power but I love him. He's also very funny, it's one of the best characters I've ever played."

Is he a villain or not?
"Yes but not in the traditional sense. He is a villain but he doesn't know that he is. For him, he just wants what he wants. He's just saying well why can't I have a car. I want that car and I want it now. A bit like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He's like the male version of her. He doesn't know that he's a villain. No thirteen-year-old thinks I shouldn't ask for that because we have no money, they go I want it and that's the problem. He doesn't have the maturity to know that he's a villain but he's a loveable villain especially the way I play him!" 

The cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Photo by Adam Cochrane.

Can you remember your first encounter with the story or the film?
"It would have been TV. That and The Sound of Music are on practically every Easter. I don't even remember anyone in my family saying you must watch it I just flicked on to it and went what on Earth is this. I think it was around the time when they pick Truly Scrumptious up to go for the picnic. Then the car floated. I think it's an absolute delight of a story."

"Ian Fleming's children wanted to read his books and he was like no because they're not meant for children. So he wrote them something specifically. It is a children's book but it is firmly rooted in the Bond ideas of good and bad. It's fantastic."

How do you approach making the role your own?
"I try to do things from the gut. I have a gut instinct on how things should be played. I didn't see Brian Blessed (who originated the role in the London Palladium production), I have obviously seen Gert Frobe but I think the film is very different to the musical anyway."

"I went into the script and it said to me he's an overgrown teenager who wants what he wants and I was going to play it like that. Then the voice was very interesting. I had to find a way to speak at high volume. This sort of annoying voice. I began rising and rising and rising until it was coming out of my nose. He's got this nasal sort of scream and that was developed during rehearsals. I had to find a way of making him be able to do what he wants."

"The Vulgarian accent I was terrible at. I couldn't do it at first. So that was something I had to work on. I had a gut instinct about what I read on the page and I hope that I do him justice."

Because he's such a larger-than-life man child does that allow more freedom to play around with the role?
"Thom, god bless him, our director. Even though some of it we had to go no we can't do that. Even now Chu-Chi Face is quite near the knuckle. It got very rude during rehearsals because Thom was enjoying it. Then we realised we've got to cut that out and we can't do that. There were lots of things we had free reign and then we had to bring it back."

You're playing alongside Jenny Gayner as your Baroness. What is that moment like when you first meet and then you've got to make the characters bond up together?
"Thank god I have her she is phenomenal. I'd been told by so many people that I know that you're going to love her, she is always game for a laugh, she is funny, she is brilliant, so I knew that we would be able to trust each other. For me that was the greatest thing about the rehearsal period, the trust that was in the room for us to be able to go 'if I go too far I'm sure they'll tell me' so I am going to go as far as I possibly can."

"Any first day when you walk into a rehearsal room is horrific. It's the day you are going to get found out to be talentless. Every single actor feels like that. Thankfully this wasn't the case this time. It's all about the trust and I have immense trust with Jenny."

One of my fondest memories of the show was seeing Christopher Biggins as Baron and Louise Gold as Baroness at the London Palladium and how they would ad-lib and corpse
"I try not to ad-lib because if I ad-lib I'd end up somewhere else and I wouldn't get back to the script.

What was the moment like when you first got to see and meet Chitty?
"Because I'm a jaded old theatre bitch basically. I've seen so many things on stage, especially in recent years with touring theatre. It's gone from something amazing to is that it? People don't have the money anymore to make these sets. So to first see the car fly was truly astonishing. As jaded and old as I am I went 'oh' and had a little tear because it looks astonishing. Even when it floats, its the best effect in the world for me. I get to see that from the side of the stage."

Adam Garcia and the cast. Photo by Adam Coltas

How do you prepare in the hours leading up to a performance?
"For me personally I don't need prep time. I have to have about 5 minutes before we go on but as long as you've technically worked out exactly what you are going to be doing from the rehearsal process it stands in good stead. So that during your day time or during your performance you can rely on that technique to carry you through. Last night I was shattered, I don't know why, but thankfully my technique got my through it. I try not to look for prep time, what I try and do is go into it as if it's the very first time and open myself up to it and then I don't have to worry. As long as I've got the first line in my head. About 5 minutes before I go on stage, first line sorted, first emotions and go for it. I like to be open because sometimes things do go wrong and things will happen and I like to comment on them."

"The other day I have this bit where I can't say the word children but I want to say the word children and I have to say the word children because my wife is right by me. I was going chi, chi, chi and someone in the audience went children and I went yes thank you. I like those moments when things happen because it means you can throw yourself at them without worrying. So free and easy"

So do those moments keep it fresh for you with it being quite a long tour?
"I don't think any show has been the same since we started. We've had things, whether that is set, audience, we've had so many things so it always has been completely different. There's been many a show where I've know what I'm doing, go on stage and do it and thats it and I can do that for a year but this time and it's probably why I am so tired because you're kept on toes by watching on what is going on around you. I don't think any show has been the same and I love that. It's been fantastic."

What is it like when the role is more demanding in the second act?
"In the first act they've kind of done a Wizard of Oz type thing where they've tried to figure out is this real or is it something the kids are thinking. Characters from the first bit come into the second bit when we're in Vulgaria. So in the first half not only do I play the Baron I also play Sid who gets his haircut which is fabulous moment. One of my favourites, that takes a lot of prep. Sid and Vi are the Baron and Baroness in real. So it creates this is it real or not."

"My act two is way more difficult but I love it. I love doing Bombie Samba, having said that I don't really do it. I am the guest star in Bombie Samba, it is my wife the wonderful Jenny she is just phenomenal in Bombie Samba she is just brilliant."

For the Baron he loves his toys but if you were going to have a toymaker make Martin a toy, what would you ask for?
"Can I choose two. They are real toys. Firstly I want another because I had one is a Bionic Man. Maybe your readers will remember this he had one arm with a sleeve of plastic on with bionic bits that went into his arm and he had this eye you could look through that would magnify everything. It was my favourite toy EVER. The only other I would want and you have to remember I am very old, this was in the seventies and the only other thing I woud want is a remote controlled Tweaky. It's from Buck Rogers in he 25th Century, a TV show that came out in the early 80s. It's remote controlled so you can make it go around and it was brilliant and I want another one of them. I see them on eBay and they are about £300! "

Someone may read this and bring you one!
"If they did I wouldn't be able to repay them and I would probably cry actually, I am a big crier. I cry at Doctor Who. I haven't seen most of the new series but I cried at the Christmas special."

Paddington 2 was the one for me. I sobbed.
"The worst thing was at the time I was living in Portugal so I was going it's home and I want to go home and I couldn't. It was Christmas time and you could see the snowy scapes of London and then I went out into the boiling hotness of Portugal and I was like urgh. I can't wait for Paddington in Peru, it's going to be amazing!"

Hopefully but with Paddington 2 being so good it's a really high bar to reach again
"Apprently it's the second only film for the longest time to have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and then some asshole wrote a bad review of it and it took it down to 99%. He did it on purpose to do that because he felt you couldn't have a film like that alongside Citizen Kane." 

If you were stranded on a desert island but you could take three musical theatre soundtracks and a player to listen to them on. Which would you take and why?
"Follies in Concert. Just because it's so brilliant and slightly chaotic because you can hear bits and pieces that are going on the background because it is recorded live and you know that there is chaos happening"

"Original Merrily We Roll Along - sensing a Sondheim theme here. The overture is stunning, I couldn't believe that it was a flop but it just fills me with such joy"

"Chess. The deluxe new version. It was the musical that made me go if I only I could do that kind of thing and it was because it was my first musical."

What keeps you inspired?
"It's the thing that I love, it really is. I do another job at the same time. I'm a receptionist at a doctors surgery which I also love doing. There's something cathartic about helping people. It's the only thing that has made me thing if I stopped doing the theatre I could be a receptionist and enjoy it for the rest of my life. Theatre is joyous. This show is making me go I don't know if I can do anything else because I have the best time on stage every night."

To wrap up our lovely chat, why should anyone who hasn't booked to see Chitty yet do so?
"It's best fun you are going to have in the theatre for years. I don't think there has been a family friendly, and by family I don't just mean for the kids, I mean for the whole family, show that there has been in many many a year. I think most of the times these days shows these days can be a bit skewed towards younger members of the audience which is completly understandable because you've got to build an audience. Shows like Heathers or Dear Evan Hansen build an audience for the future. But this is utterly family friendly. You are going to go away humming the tunes and having the best time in the theatre. You will probably see me laugh, which is not uncommon."

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tours with dates currently booking until Saturday 10th May 2025. Find out more information at The production visits Milton Keynes Theatre from 2nd until 7th July. Tickets are avaliable from

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