Writer: Roald Dahl
Adaptor: David Wood
Director: Nikolai Foster
Music: Dougal Irvine
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
Marking what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday this year, this latest production of The Witches proves Dahl’s writing has as much relevance and holds just as much mass appeal with modern audiences as when his work was first published. Produced in association with Curve Theatre, Leicester, this adaptation by David Wood is Dahl’s darkest and probably most gruesome novel brought to life in a faithful and characteristic representation.
Produced very much with children in mind, the actors play to their audience, entering through the auditorium and introducing themselves onstage with the Welcome Song, lulling the audience into a false sense of security before the Roald Dahl magic begins.
Just remember: however bad things get, everything will turn out alright – in most other stories. But this is not most other stories…
Unafraid to explore the idea of death, The Witches begins with orphan Boy (Fox Jackson Keen) describing how he lost his parents in a car crash and has been sent to live with his witch-obsessed Grandma (Jenna Augen) in Norway. While convalescing on the South Coast of England, the pair accidentally stumbles across a convention of witches attempting to eradicate the country’s entire population of children. Between them, the Boy and his Grandma intercept the witches’ plan and foil the attempt, despite the Boy being turned into a mouse along the way.
The high energy performance is impressively executed by the very accomplished and talented ensemble cast of actor/musicians. They provide narration to cover the details of more complex aspects of the storyline, while easily slipping into the musical numbers. Dougal Irvine’s compositions are a welcome addition to the piece by way of engaging children, with a number of catchy and fitting songs, humour contrasting with darker, scarier moments that may frighten younger children.
Although theatrically enhanced for an audience, mostly the scary moments can be attributed to Dahl’s writing and vivid descriptions, which have been skilfully brought to life in this visually stunning adaptation. A multicolour spectacular created through costumes, wigs, props and complementing lighting to showcase the creative set, it is the very antithesis of the stereotypical witches in black pointy hats, which according to Grandma, “only exist in fairy-tales”.
The despicable child-hating Grand High Witch is played to perfection by Sarah Ingram, who creates a series of traits synonymous with her character. Fox Jackson Keen in the role of Boy has fantastic enthusiasm and acrobatic skill, and is cast alongside a very strong cast of experienced actors. There are comedic moments between the pairing of Boy and ever hungry Bruno (Jonny Weldon) and the whole performance is delivered with an abundance of energy that is customary for children’s theatre.
The feel-good song at the end provides the requisite happy ending, placating children and adults alike. An all round crowd pleaser, this multi-layered production appeals on many levels, ensuring that Dahl’s legacy continues.
Runs until 21 January 2017 | Image: Anthony Robling