The Worst Witch – Birmingham Hippodrome

Writer: Emma Reeves from the novel by Jill Murphy

Director: Theresa Heskins

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch has been entertaining children for the best part of three generations. Continuing to go full circle, the television series (two versions of!) inspire yesterday and today’s youngsters to seek out the books; the books inspiring those who haven’t discovered the television adaptions to watch them – and with streaming services forming most of today’s TV viewing, seeking out both incarnations of Murphy’s creations is now a doddle.

But with The Worst Witch being as widely known as it is, who on earth do you try and please when turning it into a stage show? The answer, in this case, is simply everyone.

Sensibly not ignoring the fanbase of the TV series, Miss Hardbroom and Miss Cackle could have been lifted straight from them – the more recent in particular – in terms of mannerisms and accents. A little more creativity is given to the portrayal of the students of the academy, with Mildred’s clumsiness given a theatrical boost and Ethel’s arrogance given a more ‘sassy’ kick, but the whole remains true to both book and series.

Danielle Bird offers up a good, if not slightly overdone, Mildred Hubble; starting in the stalls, she engages the children throughout and we root for her success. Rebecca Killick provides Mildred’s best friend and sidekick, Maud, and captures the charm and innocence of the character perfectly. The two bounce off each other brilliantly and the broomstick display scene is a stunning display of comedic acrobatics. Stealing the show on the Academy front, however, is Rosie Abraham as Ethel. The quote from a 9-year old fan in the interval “I love what they’ve done with Ethel”, sums things up rather well. As much as we want to hate her character, Abraham finely balances the audience’s love-hate relationship with Ethel while remaining funny throughout and her ‘congratulations’ scene at the end is by far one of the most memorable.

As for the teachers, Rachel Heaton’s Miss Hardbroom is nothing but true to every version of her character both aesthetically and theatrically, which pleases greatly. Polly Lister steals the show with Miss Cackle/Agatha with the spit personality scenes having all ages in the audience in stitches at its sheer brilliance and absurdity. Some fantastic exaggerated observation makes for a hilarious conversation between the two while the younger witches try and eavesdrop, and the drag-esque musical number is a sight to behold.

At times, the humour borders on the ridiculous but mostly does well to not cross the line. There are a couple of occasions where it feels like too much of a pantomime; however, these come at a point where some of the younger members of the audience’s attentions might be waning and can, therefore, be forgiven. The ‘magic’ is subtle with no huge effects but what is provided is plenty without relying on it for entertainment value while the musical numbers, although not the things you’ll be singing for weeks afterwards, are pleasing and are targeted well.

Overall, this production will please both younger and older fans of The Worst Witch while entertaining those who are simply along as a chaperone; with the right balance of silly and sensible, a talented cast, live music and fitting numbers – you won’t be disappointed. Catch it quick before the broomsticks are grounded.

Runs Until 26 May 2019 and on tour | Image: Manuel Harlan

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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