Writer: Emma Reeves based on the novel by Jill Murphy
Director: Theresa Heskins
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Long before the boy who lived, there was a young witch who despite great intentions would always end up face first on the floor or in more trouble than she started. The Worst Witch saw a series of delightful children’s books by writer and illustrator Jill Murphy. Conjured into a world of fantastical boarding schools the series has seen many a successful TV adaptation, so what had to follow? An exceedingly welcomed stage adaptation.
In a prime example of metatext, The Worst Witch stages itself through the often crudely implemented play within a play dynamic. An experience not shared with Emma Reeves adaption, utilising the plot device well. An older Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird) produces her experiences of that first year at Miss Cackle’s academy. Friendships remain but old rivalry’s die hard in this spellbinding interpretation.
What The Worst Witch captures sublimely is a sense of natural enchantment. Not relying on the cheap tricks many large-scale productions will resort to. It rejoices in its low-budget though high-entertainment merit.
So why doesn’t Simon Daw brew this production into a glitz and glamour technical marvel? He doesn’t need to. In fact, despite what others may say – The Worst Witch would be worse off if it had. The charm in the aesthetical design, lovingly crafted from the pages of the books, suits it’s silhouetted construct. If you require any more proof that less is more – argue with Polly Lister’s Agatha once she’s finished off ‘Tabby’
Tabby, Mildred’s cat, is one of the uniquely inventive takes on special effects and design work. Their effectiveness is established in simplicity. Which isn’t to say they are watered down or weak, quite the contrary as visual effects serve spectacles. A blend of vintage wizardry with contemporary genius. With no attempts in hiding the ropes, instead, these become part of the craft. The aerial feats are finer than any attempt at ‘flight’ with obviously (in)visible string because of this.
Sorcery is found within the score by Luke Potter, slithering neatly amidst Emma Reeves adapted script. Not marketed as a musical, The Worst Witch uses its song numbers sparingly and to tremendous effect. In particular, Polly Lister, who wholly owns the second half, nevertheless stands firm ground at the opening of act two with Witching Hour.
A trio of musically gifted wyrd teachers and student are found within Molly-Grace Cutler, Megan Leigh Mason and student Meg Forgan. For a three-piece band, the delivery is rhythmic, complementary to the action onstage and sets up the grand return of an old series nemesis…
The Witch is back. Lister’s antagonistic prowess would force any Pantomime Dame to cower in reverence. Her jabs to the audience alongside Rosie Abraham are so sharp-tongued that it’s difficult not to be on Agatha’s side. Though, if you are a fan of goodie-goods Bird’s bumbling Mildred is precisely what the books envisioned. Rachel Heaton’s Miss Hardbroom to tiptoes the line of frightful yet respectable teacher.
Boys, Girls, Ladies, Gentleman across the nation – let out your inner witch. This isn’t so much a children’s show as it is a production for everyone. One or two jokes fired at the older crowd aren’t necessary, any of them with any sense of youth or adventure are already invested. The odd moment of terror may spook the youngest of youngsters, but sometimes a fright is healthy. Surrender over to The Worst Witch to find yourself bewitched by the most unexpected fun, mayhem and charm you’ll experience this summer.
Runs until 12 May then continues touring | Image: Contributed