ROALD Dahl’s scariest book, The Witches, was brought to life at the Lowry theatre last night. Entertainment reporter Alicia Boukersi went to watch…
In a co-production between Curve and Rose Theatre, The Witches promised to be a “tremendously terrifying treat for the whole family”.
It is a story about a boy, aptly referred to as Boy, whose parents are killed in a car crash, so is sent to live with his cigar-smoking grandmother in Norway. She tells him stories of frightening witches who disguise themselves as ordinary people, and “could be sat right next to you”. Unfortunately, when Boy goes to Bournemouth, a town better known for hosting the Conservative Party conference, he becomes a victim of the Witches and is transformed into a mouse.
Yet, unlike most children’s stories, there is no ‘happy ending’. Instead, Boy remains a mouse for the rest of his inevitably short life. Aberrantly, even the 1990 film version decided against the fatalism of the conclusion, but David Wood’s theatrical adaptation remains faithful to the bitter end.
Wood has previously adapted five other Dahl books into plays. With that level of experience, he certainly knew what he was doing.
The stage was, in Dahlian terms, fantasmagorical. Packed with props, such as a giant ball of wool and a twirling staircase attached to a towering tree, you might expect it to be cramped. However, Isla Shaw’s design remained illimitable and commodious, with the cast managing to move easily in, around, over and under everything. It was indeed a fantastic set, and with all the different light permutations, and the pyrotechnics the atmosphere was one of magic. The setting resembled a circus, and with all the wild and wonderful scenes, it soon became one.
The show lasted for 75 minutes, which was not as extensive as I longed for, but perhaps just right for the target audience, made up of older children and their parents.
— Kristy Stott (@Kristobel) March 21, 2016
The play started with a song in which all the cast members asked people to respect theatre etiquette, and enjoy the performance. It was a bizarre approach, acknowledging the audience’s existence and then simply turning their backs on them. It took a while before the audience understood what was happening.
The cast was made up of seven enthusiastic and talented performers that played their main parts, as well as sharing minor roles and providing the music.
Most of the characters were mono-dimensional and hammed up for comedic purposes. Boy, played by Fox Jackson-Keen, was delightful as the hero, instantly gaining sympathy from the audience. The Grand High Witch, (Sarah Ingram), was played with pantomimic evil relish. With her heavy Germanic accent, she endeavoured to rid the world of children. The calm and ever-loving Grandma, played by Karen Mann, was also a strong character fabricating many lump-in-the throat moments.
Some of the directing was a little muddled. In the Dahl version of this story, the witches always wear gloves to disguise the fact that they have no fingernails. This was disregarded. Witches are bald, and wear natural-looking wigs. Again this was disregarded; their wigs were outrageous for comedy value, but the play was otherwise indistinguishable to the book.
The Witches is colourful and charming, designed for children but with enough vivacity and irreverent humour that adults would appreciate it too. There were some odd directorial choices thrown about, but the moral of the story that “it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, as long as someone loves you” resonates with us all and makes this outstanding children’s theatre.
By Alicia Boukersi