UK Student Life homepage
Study, work or travel in the UK. British culture and life.
A-Z index
Message Board
Contact us
< Up
Life / Entertainment / Theatre / Mary Poppins
Guide to the stage musical "Mary Poppins"
  Main characters
  Story outline
  Vocabulary and background notes
  About the author (P.L.Travers)
  The film Mary Poppins
  Further information


This page is a brief guide to the stage musical Mary Poppins, which opened in London's West End (at the Prince Edward Theatre) in December 2004.
The London closed on Saturday 12 January 2008, after which it started a tour across the UK:

Theatre Royal Plymouth: 4 June 2008 - 5 July 2008
Birmingham Hippodrome: 10 July 2008 - 27 September 2008
Edinburgh Playhouse: 1 October 2008 - 6 December 2008
Manchester Palace Theatre: 10 December 2008 - 7 March 2009
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff: 11 March 2009 - 18 April 2009

Prince Edward Theatre

Mary Poppins poster

Back to top


The Banks family lives in a fine house at number 17, Cherry Tree Lane in London (this road does not exist).

George Banks: the father of the Banks family, who works in London as a banker. He is so busy with his job that he doesn't have much time for his children.
Winifred Banks: the mother of the Banks family, a former dancer. Her husband has asked her to try to make friends in London's high society.
Jane Banks: 10-year old daughter of Mr & Mrs Banks. She is naughty and has a temper, and she doesn't look after her toys well.
Michael Banks: 8-year old son of Mr & Mrs Banks. He wants to fly kites and look at the stars, but his father doesn't allow him to do these things.
Miss Andrew: a strict nanny who looked after George Banks when he was young

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Mr & Mrs Banks
(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Miss Andrew and the children (Jane and Michael)

Mary Poppins
: a magical and "practically perfect" nanny who comes to look after the children of the Banks family
: Mary's friend, who does various jobs such as working as a chimney sweep, lighting street gas lamps and selling his own paintings

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Mary Poppins
(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Bert and the chimneysweeps

Neleus: a statue in the park of the son of Poseidon, who is the god of the sea in Greek mythology
Mrs Brill: a scullery maid (female servant) who works for the Banks family, cooking and looking after the house
Robertson Ay: a footman (male servant) who works for the Banks family but has many accidents

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Neleus (the statue)
(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
Mrs Brill and Robertson Ay

Mrs Corry: the very old owner of a shop selling magical sweets
Von Hussler: a man who wants to borrow money from the bank for speculation
Northbrook: a man from the north of England who wants to borrow money from the bank to build a factory to give work to local people
Bird Woman: a poor woman who stands near St Paul's Cathedral selling breadcrumbs to give to the birds
Other characters include the policeman, park keeper, admiral, toys, statues, bank staff/customers, chimney sweeps, lamp lighters and inhabitants of Cherry Tree Lane.

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Bank clerks and customers

Back to top


The story is set during the Edwardian period (between 1901 and 1910, the time when Edward the Seventh was king, after Queen Victoria died). Mr & Mrs Banks employ a nanny to look after their two children Michael and Jane, but the nannies always leave quickly because the children are so naughty. Mr Banks is a busy banker who has little time for his children and wants his wife to help him to become part of London's high society. After yet another nanny leaves, the children write a note explaining what kind of person they want. Suddenly a "practically perfect" nanny called Mary Poppins appears from the sky and takes on the job of looking after the children. She uses her magic to try to teach them the importance of being well-behaved, loving and optimistic, but they don't seem willing to learn. Mary leaves suddenly and is replaced by the fierce Miss Andrew. The whole family are relieved when Mary comes back, and their attitudes to life start to change. Mary knows that her work is done and that it is time to leave the family alone ...

Back to top


If English is not your first language you may want to check the vocabulary below before you see the show. If there are words or phrases which you don't understand, ask your English teacher or look them up in a dictionary (there are links to online dictionaries here: Dictionary). Words are in the order in which they are used and are listed according to the song in which they appear.

If you wish to study English using this musical you are recommended to buy the CD of the London cast recording, which includes a booklet with the words to all of the songs:

Mary Poppins [Soundtrack] (CD)
Artists: Original London Cast 2005
Label: First Night
Date: April 2005
Mary Poppins: Practically Perfect in Every Way
(book about the stage musical)
Author: Brian Sibley
Publisher: Disney Editions
Date: October 2007

(1) Prologue/Chim chim cher-ee: something is brewing, to put your finger on something, to lie in store, to fly a kite

Cockney speech
Bert speaks with an East London accent known as Cockney. For example, he doesn't pronounce the first letter of a word which starts with "h": 'appen (happen), 'ave (have), 'appiness (happiness), 'er (her), 'olds your 'and (holds your hand), 'eart (heart), 'ard (hard)
Some other first or final letters are also not pronounced, for example: mornin' (morning), 'bout (about), 'em (them)
The word ain't is used to mean either isn't or hasn't. 'Th" is pronounced like a "v", so father is pronounced "farver" and mother as "muvver".
"Me" is sometimes used instead of "my", eg: I can't put me finger on it (I can't put my finger on it).

(2) Cherry Tree Lane part 1: good riddance, to draw blanks, blunder, to feel bereft, nanny, precision, to be your domain, sovereign, to engage, to govern, paragon, to suffer no fool(s), stalwart, authority, efficiency, forethought, to run like clockwork, calibre, army barracks, (army) mess, insane, madhouse, wage, adorable, debatable

(3) The Perfect Nanny: choice, cheery disposition, rosy cheeks, warts, witty, outings, treats, castor oil, gruel, barley water, to scold, to dominate

(4) Cherry Tree Lane part 2: tommy rot, chill, boot polish

(5) Practically Perfect: weather vane, spit spot, spic and span, practically [=almost completely], virtue, trait, prim, stern, refined, forte, uncanny, meek, credentials, temperamental, grouchy, gruff, when the going gets tough, to go amiss

(6) Jolly Holiday: spark, wonderland, to look anew, jolly, daffodils, dove, to feel grand, brass band, statue, granny, to spite us, for a lark, plot, plinth, statuary, to be set in stone, from top to toe, timid, boulder, to lose your marbles, The Thinker, to hasten, mason, craft, daft, Notre Dame, hunch, gargoyle, to gargle, Venus, vice, Sphinx, to wink, neat [drink with nothing added], on the rocks [drink with ice added], to go for a saunter, jaunty, to make your mark, to take a promenade, finely-chiselled, features, to stand agog, to take a jog, diamond in the rough, blue blood, to press your advantage, forbearance, hallmark, creed, gentility, crystal clear

There are many jokes and references to stone and statues in this song. How many can you spot?
For example, Bert says to Michael:
Bert: Do you think Neleus [the statue] is looking a bit timid today? Michael: No, why? Bert: I knew him when he was a little boulder
Explanation: This is a type of wordplay called a pun. Timid means shy, which is the opposite of brave or bold. "A little boulder" is a small rock (from which Neleus was made), but it also sounds like "a little bolder", meaning a bit braver.
The song refers to several statues in Paris (see photos below). For more details of these and other attractions in Paris, see: Travel/Tours/Paris

The Thinker
by Rodin

Venus de Milo
in the Louvre Museum

Gargoyle at the top of
Notre Dame cathedral

(7) Cherry Tree Lane (reprise) / Being Mrs Banks / Jolly Holiday (reprise): To bend the rules, disciplined, stern, to befriend, credo, in our midst, unsettling, comfy, to entail, to beam

(8) A Spoonful of Sugar: an element of fun, snap!, to undertake a task, a piece of cake, lark, spree, spoonful, delightful, robin, to feather your nest, twine, twig, intent, pursuit, to toot, honey bee, nectar, (honey)comb, to buzz, to and fro, nip, sip, rum punch, grind

(9) Feed the Birds: to feed, tuppence, Saint Paul's (Cathedral), crumbs, overhead, saints, apostles, wares

British coins
Old stories and films sometimes refer to coins which do not exist today or which were called differently. There used to be 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. The coins were as follows (the abbreviation used for an old penny was "d"): farthing (¼d), halfpenny (½d, pronounced ha'penny), penny (1d), threepence (3d, pronounced thruppence), groat (4d), sixpence (6d), shilling (1s, worth 12d and often written 1/-), florin (2s), half crown (2s 6d or 2/6), crown (5s or 5/-), sovereign (£1, worth 20s), guinea (£1 1s 0d, worth 21s).
Tuppence is an old way of saying two pence: the Bird Woman would probably have been paid for the breadcrumbs using two pennies.
The British coin system was decimalised in 1971. After this date there were 100 new pence (100p) in one pound and most of the old coins were no longer used. The coins in the UK today are: 1 penny (1p), 2 pence (2p), 5 pence (5p), 10 pence (10p), 20 pence (20p), 50 pence (50p), one pound (£1), two pounds (£2).

Victorian penny (above) and sixpence (below)
(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
Bird Woman

St Paul's Cathedral, London

(10) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (pronounced "super-cali-fragilistic-expi-alid-ocious"): absurd, to leaf through (a book), lexicon, spontaneity, keen, atrocious, precocious, Stone Age, to grunt, to suffice, pharaoh, to grasp, in a jiff, pyramid, hieroglyph, ferocious,druid, monolith, myth, to enter the abyss, bloody good [slang], the cat has got your tongue, dismay, consonant, vowel

Nonsense words
Note that some of the words in this song don't exist: they have been made up to rhyme with the title of the song, which of course also isn't a real word! These words are Rocococious [meaning "in Rococo style": an 18th century French style of art], hypnotious [meaning "hypnotic"] and halitotious [meaning "having bad breath": halitotis is a medical term for bad breath]. Some of the other rhymes do exist: these are ferocious [meaning "fierce" or "wild"], atrocious [meaning "very bad"] and precocious [an adjective describing a child who behaves in an adult way in a way that seems unnatural].
The backwards spelling of the title is "suoicodilaipxecitsiligarfilacrepus", which of course is even more difficult to say quickly!

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg

(11) Temper, Temper: to lose your temper, woe, wicked, nursery, tantrum, trial, destiny, crossroads, wanton, commodity, witness, verdict, bold as brass, stiff sentence

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg

(12) Chim Chim Cher-ee: to billow, to curl, [chimney] sweep, rung [of a ladder], ash, bloke [slang], to rub off, glad, cheerio!, to keep an eye on someone, au revoir [French for "see you again"], God Bless You, to catch your death [of cold]

(c) Cameron Mackintosh. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg

(13) Entr'acte: Run Away: [no vocabulary]

(14) Brimstone and Treacle: to be spoiled, punishment, crime, brimstone, treacle, cod liver oil, dose, to recoil, to molly-coddle, irksome, punitive, carbolic soap, chronic, tincture, tonic, smirk, ration, matron, to simper, to whinge, to whimper, absurd, to cosset, to pamper, to hinder, to hamper, to lurk, to throttle, to uncork a bottle

Brimstone and treacle
Brimstone (sulphur) and treacle (a thick sugar syrup) was an old type of medicine which was believed to keep people healthy. However it tasted very unpleasant and caused people to vomit.

(15) Let's Go Fly a Kite: tuppence, fist, kite, height, to soar, atmosphere, breeze, to reel something in, to be stuck

(16) Good for Nothing / Being Mrs Banks: to realise your fears, certainty, ideal, to idealise, chaos, home truth, to come home to roost, illusion, to shatter, sovereign, to reign, good-for-nothing, to shower someone with praise, to rephrase, monster, to carry a burden, to close ranks

(17) Brimstone and Treacle (Part 2): caged bird, lark, to come crawling back, liquor, runaway, impudent, to leave without notice, to pack, new-fangled, to know your place, charge [=someone under your care], mishandled, to turn out, pillar [of society], to bear the brunt of something, bully, cruel, deeds, perk, catch [=problem]

(18) Step in Time: to brush away, soot, cobweb, a night out on the tiles, motley crew, to smudge, tar, grime, rooftop, rhyme, childhood, parenthood, elbow, to be low, to feel in the wars, chimney, Santa Claus, brush, broom, rod

(19) A Man has Dreams / A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise): sentimental, to carve a niche, edifice, mortar, zeal, congeal, rack and ruin, in your prime, rum, governor, exemplary, ambition, in one fell blow, a bitter pill to take, to become unstrung, helping, to grind, grindstone, sieve

(20) Anything Can Happen: to move a mountain, spade, marvel, larval, to meet a challenge, to vacillate, to leave on the shelf, epitaph, blinkers, to whet a whistle, to broaden your horizon, pirouette, to reach for the stars/heavens, collar, scruff [of the neck], superficial, to sally forth, obstacle, to regret

(21) A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise) / Shooting Star: bitter-sweet, task, shooting star, telescope

Back to top


If you are not a native English speaker you may not understand all of the jokes and the words of the songs, but you should be able to follow the story (especially if you have already seen the film) and you should enjoy the music, dancing and costumes.
Age: Adults and children of all ages will enjoy this production. Parents with children under 16 may prefer the matinee performances or the special "family nights".
Music: There is music throughout the performance, with only short sections of speech. About half of the songs are from the 1965 film (written by the Sherman brothers) and half are new songs of a similar style (music by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewe).

Back to top


Mary Poppins is based on a series of books by P.L.Travers, a lady whose real name was Helen Lyndon Goff. She was born in Australia in 1899. Her father was a bank manager but died when she was only 7 (she chose the name Travers because it was her father's first name). She became interested in theatre and writing and moved to England in 1926 to work as a journalist. The first Mary Poppins book was written in 1934, while she was living in a small town in Sussex called Mayfield. She died in 1996.

Mary Poppins (boxed set edition, 3 books)
Author: P.L. Travers
Publisher: Odyssey Classics
Date: October 2006

Back to top


The film version of Mary Poppins was released in 1964 and starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (who played both Bert and the bank chairman). It was created by Walt Disney and included some innovative scenes which combined animation and live action (these scenes are not included in the stage version).

Mary Poppins [1964] (DVD: 40th anniversary edition)
Starring: Julie Andrews & Dick Van Dyke
Studio: Walt Disney Home Video
Date: March 2005
The Sound of Music [1965] (DVD special edition)
[another musical starring Julie Andrews]
Starring: Julie Andrews
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Date: November 2006
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang [1968] (DVD special edition)
[another musical starring Dick Van Dyke]
Starring: Dick Van Dyke
Studio: MGM Home Ent. (Europe) Ltd
Date: November 2003
My Fair Lady [1965] (DVD)
[another musical set in Edwardian London]
Starring: Audrey Hepburn
Studio: Warner Home Video
Date: April 2004

Back to top


Official website for the musical:

Production photographs shown above are by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg, Michael Le Poer Trench, Alastair Muir © Cameron Mackintosh/Disney

Back to top


British theatre: Life/Entertainment/Theatre
West End Live: Ideas/Album/West-End-Live

If you like Mary Poppins you may also enjoy these musicals:
Lion King: Life/Entertainment/Theatre/LionKing
Wicked: Life/Entertainment/Theatre/Wicked

British films: Britain/Films
Victorian/Edwardian history: Britain/History/Victorian
English language school courses: Course/Language
Studying English: English

Home page: Home

Back to top

© UK Student Life 2002-2009

* Search this website ( or the web: