Writer: Roald Dahl
Opening with a bang and a storm, Roald Dahl’s The Witches proves to be a great hit with audiences, young and old.
David Wood’s faithful adaptation of the much-loved classic tells the spooky tale of a Norwegian orphan, simply known as Boy and his wise old Grandma who defeat the grand high witch at a seaside resort, Hotel Magnificent, in Bournemouth.
The cast of seven show off their versatility and talent in doubling up to play all the parts in the story as well as the instruments. Karen Mann is outstanding in the rôle of Grandma. Her portrayal of Grandma as the ultimate maternal figure – warm and tender and only too happy to give you a generous hug and loving words when you’ve landed yourself in trouble or been turned into a mouse by a witch – is simply excellent. Fox Jackson-Keen is obviously older than an eight-year-old, but captures the innocence and naivety of a child brilliantly. When these two take to the stage, the narrative is particularly strong, drawing us into the classic story. Sarah Ingram’s Grand High Witchis a formidable character with a strong German accent, which sometimes has the audience in stitches instead of quaking in their boots. Some of her terror is also lost through mumbling of lines. Mr and Mrs Jenkins makes a for a great comedy duo, depicting the ignorant but well-meaning parents of the over-indulged boy, Bruno.
Instead of Dahl’s bald witches, Nikolai Foster’s witches don crazy wigs – in bright pinks and greens, which make for a visual feast and are the perfect accompaniment to Isla Shaw’s garish and outlandish costumes which are a real throwback to the 70s.
The talent on display and the special effectsdeserve a larger space than the studio, which feels simply too small. The set – a winding staircase and balcony, a lampshade and armchair, as well as a grand piano and drum set – while aesthetically pleasing – often becomes cramped and claustrophobic, especially when all seven cast members are on stage. The hanging lights and bunting feel somewhat out of place too, although befitting of the celebratory nature of this time of year. The collaboration with magic consultant, Neil Henry enhances the performance and is a work of real genius, which will surprise and delight both adults and children. The use of video, shadows, flashing lights, loud bangs and fire, work well and add to the mystery and marvel of the illusions. The sinister but catchy musical score help keep us on the edge of our seats.
The running time of 75 minutes works well – though the first half, especially the scene with the witches, almost drags on, and the second feels much shorter than thirty minutes. However, the production captures Dahl’s dark humour, vulgarity, and quirky vocabulary and much like the author himself, is only too happy to challenge younger audiences, rather than patronise them, leaving them with a wonderful lesson, that ‘it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.’ For this fact alone, Nikolai Foster’s The Witches is a real triumph.
Runs until 7 January 2016 | ImageCatherine Ashmore