Mary Poppins: The evolution from page to stage

By | Posted on 28-Jan-2019

Mary Poppins: The evolution from page to stage

The tales of Mary Poppins have enchanted audiences since the earliest stories of the fictional nanny were published in 1934. Ever since, Mary Poppins and the Banks family have become beloved characters for all generations, finding her way into the hearts of children and adults alike. Learn all about the transformation of Mary Poppins from her humble beginnings to a legendary character of modern times.

All about Mary Poppins

Who is Mary Poppins?

Mary Poppins is a quintessentially English nanny with a few tricks up her sleeve, who looks after children in her own, particular way. Although she may be strict, she is usually firm yet fair and possesses a level of empathy surpassing many around her while being considerate of others. Whether reading books, watching the film or seeing the character on stage, she is first introduced by floating down to the Banks household holding her umbrella, which has now become the character’s synonymous prop.

The tales of the motherly character can be found in books as early as 1934 in the collection of stories about the English nanny that went on to become a resounding success for the author, P.L. Travers.

Who was P.L. Travers?

Born Helen Lyndon Goff, P.L. Travers was an Australian-British writer, who grew up in Queensland and was sent to boarding school in Sydney. Moving to England at 25, she decided to change her name Pamela Lyndon Travers, with a pen name of P.L. Travers. Spending most of her career in England, Travers became infatuated with mythological stories and imaginative tales.

During a professional writing career of over 55 years, she had 18 fictional books published as well as four non-fiction texts. However, it is her collection of Mary Poppins books that have earned the author a writing legacy. A governess teaching children in her early form, Mary Poppins became a nanny and was told to wider audiences from 1934.

Why was the nanny named Mary Poppins?

Due to P.L. Traver’s literary success, she was invited to appear on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. On the show, she revealed that “M. Poppins” came from childhood stories that she would be told, as well as inspiration from her aunt who would say “spit spot” around the house.

The original books

Fictional tales of the “practically perfect” character originate in the 1934 book titled after the nanny. From the success of the first book, seven sequels were later published, each with their own charm. Below is a short summary of all eight books which ensured that Poppins’ adventures would capture the hearts of readers.

  • Mary Poppins (1934): When the Banks children are faced with a new nanny, the children enjoy being around someone with a warm temperament, especially on their trip to the zoo.
  • Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935): Mary and the children meet Miss Topsy and Mr. Turvy and find themselves dangling in the air and holding on to balloons.
  • Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943): With Jane and Michael Banks getting older, Mary keeps them sweet with a nostalgic day out, filled with candy canes and meeting the Marble Boy.
  • Mary Poppins In the Park (1952): Celebrating a birthday, the mischevious gang gets up to even more mischief and meet people that live under dandelions.
  • Mary Poppins from A to Z (1962): With 26 tales all about Mary Poppins and the children, readers can learn the alphabet with their favourite nanny.
  • Mary Poppins in the Kitchen (1975): Working in the kitchen, Mary and the children meet their friends from previous books to learn how to cook.
  • Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane (1982): Taking the children on holiday, they’re all set to have an unforgettable adventure and make even more memories with one another.
  • Mary Poppins and the House Next Door (1988, also Travers’ last fictional book): Showing her benevolent side, Mary assists Luti as he travels to his island in the South Seas with the assistance of the Man-in-the-Moon.

Mary Poppins (2004)

The world premiere of Mary Poppins played at the Bristol Hippodrome in 2004, before transferring to the Prince Edward Theatre with performances from 15th December 2004.

With a book by Julian Fellowes and extra music and lyrics from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, Mary Poppins was praised for its positively British presentation. The show went on to win two Olivier Awards and played for over three years, closing on 12th January 2008.

The musical later transferred to Broadway with the debut performance on 16th November 2006, playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre until 3rd March 2013.

Mary Poppins (2019)

Mary Poppins
Photo credit: Seamus Ryan

11 years after the West End premiere closed,Mary Poppins will return to the West End taking residency in the Prince Edward Theatre once more. Starring Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp, don’t miss out on the heartwarming musical now it’s back to London and book your tickets now!

Photo credit: Johan Persson