Writer: Emma Reeves based on the novel by Jill Murphy
Director: Theresa Heskins
Reviewer: Tim Harding
Panto season may have ended a few months ago, but The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry was packed with families tonight, many cheering and booing along with the antics on stage.
They are here to welcome the arrival in Coventry of the girls and staff from Cackle’s Academy for Witches, who have come to give a show, telling about what goes on at the magical school. What then transpires is really a play of two halves. In the first half, we meet the eponymous Worst Witch, Mildred Hubble, her best friends Maud and Enid, Ethel the school bully, along with teachers including the Snape-like Miss Hardbroom (there are a couple of nice, loving digs at the Wizarding World in Emma Reeves’ script) and the tea-and-bun-loving Headmistress, Ada Cackle. We see the girls tackling every day classes such as potions and broom control, but, one exceptional aerial routine aside (choreographed by Vicki Amedume), there’s not a lot of drama going on. The young audience certainly enjoys the play but are not really involved with it.
And then act two arrives, and with it the introduction of Miss Cackle’s evil twin sister Agatha, played, like Ada, by Polly Lister, clearly having the time of her life, camping it up, displaying a fine singing voice, and excellent comic timing in the dual rôle. And with Agatha comes jeopardy and dark magic, and the play moves up several levels, as does the very willing audience participation. Here the panto nature of the play really kicks in, with plenty of conversations directly with the audience encouraging them to get involved.
By now the audience members, young and old, are having a great time, and rightly so. The show is tightly scripted by Reeves with excellent songs and score by Luke Potter adding greatly to the entertainment. The music is all played live by the excellent trio of Molly-Grace Cutler, Megan Leigh and Meg Forgan who not only accompany the songs and play small characters in the action, but also provide a dizzying array of cartoon-style sound effects that are well chosen to enhance the action.
The cast, led by Lister and Danielle Bird as the hapless but strong-minded Mildred are uniformly excellent and incredibly well drilled by director Theresa Heskins. The pace of the action is relentless, the timing of the physical comedy and magical effects (John Bulleid, puppetry by Paschale Straiton) impeccable. Rachel Heaton (Miss Hardbroom), Rebecca Killick (Maud), Rosie Abraham (Ethel), Emma Lau (Drusilla) and Anna Crichlow (Enid) all give well-characterized performances, Crichlow, in particular, displaying excellent vocals.
Supported by a very simple (at first glance!) set and excellent lighting and sound The Worst Witch will delight kids of all ages; the junior reviewers (both seasoned theatregoers at a young age) that helped write this were both entranced and thrilled by the production.
Runs Until 27 April 2019 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan