Writer: Roald Dahl
Adapter: David Wood
Director: Jemima Levick
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
In probably the darkest and nastiest of Road Dahl’s non-adult stories, he delivers us a group of women who plan to rid the world of children, using a fiendish plan so horribly plausible – the administration of a magic potion via sweets and chocolate – that you start to wonder if it’s the reason we don’t see old fashioned sweet shops anymore.
Thankfully Dundee Rep delivers all the evil of David Wood’s adaptation of The Witches with precisely the right level of verve and brio that fans of the book will fully appreciate.
Matthew Forbes plays the nameless central character – representative of an ‘any-boy’, if you will – with charm and pluck and innocence, adapting to his unfortunate transformation into a mouse with gusto. Irene Macdougall conveys unbounded love as his drily macabre Norwegian Grandma, sucking on black cigars and describing the real horror of the witches’ appearance and nature with relish. There’s a wonderful ease to their relationship,obviously loving and playful, and the broad grins with which they outline what could be a decidedly downbeat fate at the end of the gruesome tale is a perfect playing of Dahl’s anti-happy ending (unforgivably undone by the film version, which offered a restoration of normality Dahl never endorsed).
As Dahl’s uber-villain, the fearsome Grand High Witch, Emily Winter offers a slight Teutonic chill and a fearsome temper, and her comeuppance in the climactic dinner scene is masterfully delivered through a cloud of purple smoke that fills the auditorium with precisely the kind of acrid, sulphurous stench that you imagine a witch would give off when she dies.
The company as a whole create a great sense of spectacle on Jean Chan’s economical but finely detailed set. The gathering of witches feels truly malevolent, especially Moyo Akandé as the sinister figure who tries to entice the young boy down from a tree using a snake, and there is light relief from Martin McBride and Stephen Bangs in their brief scene as two vile chefs creating an extra special dish for dinner.
If the cheery songs feel a little off-message from Dahl’s dark vision of the world, they are at least delivered with huge amounts of energy, and while Jemima Levick’s production doesn’t skimp on delivering the unpleasantries there is plenty of fun to be had too, with the likes of slow motion chase sequences, scooter boats and mouse puppets galore.
Dahl’s genius was in penning stories that enchanted children while touching a few nerves for adults too, and the grown-ups in the audience were as vocal as the children in their response to the unfolding drama, ensuring this is one seasonal production that will truly keep the whole family happy this Christmas.
Runs until 31 December 2015