Roald Dahl’s wonderful and vibrant stories have captured the imaginations of millions of children (and adults) across the world. Translated into 58 different languages, Dahl’s rich and impressive portfolio has been successfully adapted for stage and screen over the years. The Witches has always been a favourite in our house, fascinating, terrifying and always prompting curious questions, and it translates perfectly to the stage in this adaptation by David Wood.
“Horrible things can be exciting”
An 8-year-old Boy goes to live with his cigar-puffing Grandma in Norway following the death of his parents. An expert on witches, his Grandma has many fascinating stories to tell and explains to him how to spot a witch. To honour his parents last wish, Boy and his Grandma return to England so that he can continue his education and it is here that he comes across some of the cruellest and most powerful child-hating witches.
Under doctor’s orders, Grandma (Karen Mann) and Boy (Fox Jackson-Kenn) take a trip to Bournemouth to allow Grandma time to recover from a bout of pneumonia. It is highly unfortunate that their home in Bournemouth, The Hotel Magnificent, is also the venue for the annual witches AGM. Under the guise of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Hotel Magnificent houses some of the most prolific witches in the world and the most feared Grand High Witch (Sarah Ingram).
Under Nikolai Foster’s impressive and paced direction, this production is a scream from beginning to end. The talented cast of seven play a multitude of characters between them as well as playing a range of instruments.
Fox Jackson-Keen plays Boy, a versatile performer – he engages skilfully with the audience using puppetry and acrobatics, giving the show an interactive dimension. The relationship between the two friends, Boy and chocolate-chomping Bruno (Kieran Urquhart) is touching and hilarious. Superb physicality and super sparkly costumes allow several of the cast to slip between roles – most notably, Elexi Walker is a complete howl as the feisty Liverpudlian, Mrs Jenkins. Headed up by Sarah Ingram’s brilliantly terrifying Grand High Witch, sniffing and squealing, the small coven of witches contort about the stage itching and scraping their skin – perfectly peculiar and comical.
Isla Shaw’s delicious costume design of larger-than-life sparkles and neon brights works wonderfully alongside the simple set design, clever projections and special effects. The witches scaly scalps, which are exposed in the 1990 film adaptation, are covered by wacky headdresses, designed by Diana Hudson, seeking to engage the young audience rather than alienate and upset.
Nikolai Foster has seasoned the recipe just right for this production – a little dose of fear, a lot of heart and lashings of humour. The Witches is a truly fantastical show and a marvellous introduction to theatre for many of the younger audience members. With a first half of 45 minutes and a second half of 30 minutes, it’s the perfect show for children over the age of 7.
The Witches is at The Lowry, Salford until 26th March 2016.