Practically perfect in every way
A Mary Poppins package comes with a touch of luxury
I OPEN the wardrobe in my guestroom at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth and there, peeking out between two fluffy white bathrobes, is Mary Poppins’s signature black umbrella. Spooky. It’s as if the prim nanny of book, film and musical fame has popped into my room and, after plumping the pillows and making sure everything is spick-and-span, flown off, leaving her calling card.
But then Mary Poppins is everywhere in Sydney this month. The musical theatre event at the Capitol Theatre is the hottest ticket in town, attracting local, interstate and even international visitors. The character, created in 1934 by Australian writer P. L. Travers and loved by every generation of children since, flutters on street banners, adorns the covers of tourist guides and is plastered on posters.
The Disney extravaganza, based on the classic 1964 film and seen by eight million people worldwide, is perfect family entertainment. But I’m here for the thoroughly grown-up Sofitel Sydney Wentworth’s Mary Poppins package, which covers accommodation, a ticket to the show and, as an add-on, afternoon tea served in the hotel’s elegant lounge. As I sip English breakfast tea from a china cup and tuck into tiny sandwiches, scones and delicate cakes and pastries, I feel sure Mary would approve, though perhaps not of the champagne.
The performance begins at 8pm, so there’s time for a quick pre-show dinner at Felix, one of Sydney’s newest restaurants and a short stroll from the hotel. The French bistro-style eatery in buzzy Ash Street laneway is the new domain of chef Lauren Murdoch, who has transferred from Ash Street Cellar, a baguette’s throw away across the passage. The food ( dishes include crumbed lamb’s brains and tripes a la lyonnaise), service (heavily accented and charming) and decor ( Paris Metro-style tiled walls, pewter bar, chandeliers) are authentically French and by the time our group leaves for the theatre the place is packed.
There’s not an empty seat at the Capitol, either. Whatever your age (and there are many audience members closer to 70 than seven) it’s impossible not to be spellbound by the magic of Cameron Mackintosh’s lavish production or to fall a little in love with Verity Hunt-Ballard as Mary Poppins, with her twinkling toes, sweet voice and astonishing head for heights.
Afterwards, weary youngsters toddle off to bed but for adults with stamina there is Sydney’s small bar scene to explore, including Stitch, a new basement bar on York Street that serves an unlikely combination of cocktails and gourmet hotdogs. Or try Grandma’s at 275 Clarence St, or Grasshopper, in Temperance Lane off George Street.
Next morning, after breakfast at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth’s French-inspired Garden Court Restaurant, and with show songs still ringing in my ears, I set off to shop. With the opening of stage two of the $1.2 billion Westfield Sydney on Pitt Street, the city now has a world-class retail destination boasting international and Australian designer luxury brands and high-street fashion. And a premium food precinct that includes Justin North’s latest venture, Quarter Twenty One. It’s a new home for his award-winning Becasse, a casual restaurant, cooking school, providore, bakery and wine store.
I dodge the queues at Australia’s first Zara store, quite the talk of Sydney, and go in search of winter boots. In the window of an upscale shoe shop I spot Victorian-style button boots in shiny black leather. They’re practically perfect in every way; I’m sure Mary would approve. Sue Milne was a guest of Sofitel Sydney Wentworth and Tourism NSW.
Verity Hunt-Ballard as Mary Poppins