The Witches

 

 

Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

gran and boy

Gran, Jean Wilde and the boy, Sammy Lees. Pictures: Roy Palmer

The Witches

Hall Green Little Theatre

****

Beware women in gloves on a summer day, or with a fine head of hair that moves in the breeze . . . why? Whisper it quietly, but they are probably witches.

That is the warning you will take away from this amusing stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s story created by David Wood.

Dahl never sugar coated his tales for tots, so this starts with a young boy, we never did know his name, whose parents are killed in a car accident while on holiday in Norway. He survives to be brought up by his grandmother – who warns him of the dangers of . . . witches.

Wisely, she also tells him the tell tale signs to look for to spot a witch . . . and how they will spot him. Children smell of dog-pooh to a witch apparently.

Which is just as well, for as luck would have it, bad luck that is, the boy finds himself staying with his gran, who is recuperating from pneumonia, at the Hotel Magnificent in Bournemouth, where the witches of England were having their AGM.

Not that they call it that, of course, no, it’s the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is rather ironic as they hate children and delight in turning them into slugs and mice – or in the case of Olivia Wilson, into a frog.

With such a choice available it was the fate of mousehood that was bestowed on boy, along with Bruno, a little lad, the term little here being little relative to a blue whale, whose greed and need to eat his own weight in donuts and chocolate between meals leads to his downfall.

chief witch

Zofja Zolna as the Grand High Witch of all the world, catching up on witch gossip

But, mouseboy still manages to save the world, at least for now, by turning witch evil, which comes ready bottled, against the witches, ridding England of their like . . . until the next witches appear of course.

And that means mouseboy can go back to Norway with his gran where, as she is very old, and mice do not live that long, they can both die happily in a few year’s time – told you Dahl doesn’t do sugar coating.

Sammy Lees is a likeable chap, a modest hero as the boy, which is more than can be said of Bruno, who is a delightfully bolshie, nasty little beast in the capable hands of Alfie Redmond.

Dependable Jean Wild is a steadying influence as the Gran, who is the leader of the goodies while, leader of the baddies, with a suitable foreign flourish, is Zofja Zolna as the Grand High Witch of all the world.

Without wig and gloves we see her scabby bald head, long crooked nose and feel her pure evil as she turns a witch who dares question her plan into a skeleton in a horrible display of power – or to be more accurate a smoke machine and a dais with a false front.

Magic, for good or evil, is illusion and to children in the audience, this was magic.

A similar fate was to befall Bruno, who was smoked into his new life as a mouse by the evil one.

Not that we were too bothered about Bruno, and, to be honest, we would have been quite happy for his parents to have joined him in the smoker. We had the aggressive dad, played by a scowling Richard Woodward and his harridan of a mum, screeched by Debbie Donnelly, the pair spreading little rays of hostility wherever they went.

mice boys

Sammy Lees as the boy and Alfie Redmond as Bruno in their new career as rodents

We even had some slapstick with head chef Daniel Robert Beaton and his assistant Daniel Ashford, preparing meals with a panache, which is posh for coughs and sneezes . . . and worse; standards of hygiene that will make you wary of ever eating in a restaurant again.

The slapstick is more at the Cbeebies level than Laurel and Hardy, but the target audience is kids, and they laughed with delight, so its purpose was served.

Both chefs, incidentally, turn up as witches as do most of the multi-tasking ensemble with Olivia Wilson, not only being frog victim but also witch tormentor. Megan Matthews is witch and maid, nurse and waitress Sami Ansari is a head waiter, doctor and witch, and even Bruno’s mum and dad don gloves and wigs to attend the AGM.

Gail Scott and Lydia Ardern get off lightly as just full-time witches while James Weetman is holding down three jobs as a lawyer, doorman and Waiter.

Not that you notice the doubling and trebling up with good costumes helping define the separation between parts.

Director Roy Palmer has used a sort of onion effect for his design with a series of black cloths from the flies revealing and hiding each scene, with scenes laid out like the layers of an onion, from front to back, making scene changes a rapid affair.

With a minimal set Paul Hartop’s lighting becomes important in highlighting scenes, often with only part of the stage lit, while Dan Honnor and Roy Palmer keep a good balance on sound.

There is also video, shot by Dan, and cleverly projected by Tal Bainbridge, who also contributed specialist lighting.

The result is an entertaining adaptation of Dahl’s tale for children . . . and their parents and grandparents. And remember – beware ladies in gloves! To 26-05-18

Roger Clarke

20-05-18

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