Wednesday 31st July 2019 at the Vaudeville Theatre, London.
The Worst Witch is by far one of the best children’s books around. It was my favourite as a child and I’ve recently loved reading it to the youngest members of the family so I couldn’t resist a trip to see Jill Murphy’s fabulous work on stage. Thankfully, I was not disappointed!
This production, adapted by Emma Reeves and directed by Theresa Heskins, brings the best of the book to the stage, adds catchy bouncy music (composer: Luke Potter, played live) and some great stage sorcery for good measure (with help from ‘Magic Consultant’ John Bulleid and Aerial Consultant Vicki Amedume, naturally).
Mildred, Maud and the girls are wonderful characters and Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches with all its eccentric teachers and events is one of the most thrilling settings to be found in magical children’s literature pre-Potter. So here we’re offered an end of year school production. Mildred and co are putting on a play which dramatises highlights from across the years at Miss Cackle’s Academy. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?
Our lead is omni-shambolic and endearingly awkward just like the Mildred from the pages of our well worn copies of the book. Danielle Bird really goes to town on the two-beats-behind-the-rest/ tripping over her own shadow elements of the character with the work of Movement Director Beverley Norris-Edmunds shining through with each tumble. Rebecca Killick makes a great bestie as Maud, the sensible one on whom our muddled Mildred can rely. Factor in the boundary-flexing, chaos-causing Enid, played with great aplomb by Consuela Rolle and you have a pretty great trio.
The Worst Witch also has more villains than most to entertain us. Rosie Abraham is fantastic as the defiantly snobbish Ethel, complete with upturned nose and permanently contorted face – the ‘it’ girl of the witching world and every bit as school-level insidious as she should be.
Rachel Heaton is a relatively gentle Miss Hardbroom, nailing the infinitely unimpressed air of the character while leaving room for a little softness in time for musical numbers and happy conclusions. It’s Polly Lister who takes the villain crown, playing both the darling tea-loving Miss Cackle and her mean evil twin Agatha. It’s an energised performance full of glares and gleeful self-congratulation adorned with quirky little leg kicks and more than a few hints that this villain is a wannabe rock witch at heart…
Molly Grace-Cutler gets the final shout-out as the wonderful multi-talented musician who doubles as batty music teacher Miss Bat but plays every instrument in the most wonderfully eccentric way – she may be up stage for the most part, but she’s a real show highlight.
Simon Daw’s set brings Miss Cackle’s Academy into being relatively minimally and with an eye for the classic witch visuals of branches against the light of the moon and such. The calamities at play are given extra drama thanks to Daw’s set and Aideen Malone’s lighting designs while Daw’s costume designs lift the charm of the key features from Murphy’s illustrations and swirl in some characterful tweaks and upgrades.
What’s lovely about this production is that while in Act 2 it doubles down on the stage trickery, in Act 1, the production leans heavily on the art of imagination. The familiars are sock puppets, the quick tricks are masked with simple ribbon twirling and segues are simple and fluid (though a few moments, like the invisibility potion scene could perhaps do with a little Act 2 flair though…) Act 2 brings about much more impressive stage magic with lots of fascinatingly well masked entries and exits and some great ‘flying’ work.
This is a fun production featuring an energised and thoroughly engaging cast – it’s a production which celebrates the power of imagination as much as the grand possibilities of the theatrical world and best of all, it puts the wonderful characters of Jill Murphy’s stories centre stage with warmth, humour and a fair few catchy ditties. Here, live on stage, Mildred’s muddles spell Charming Trouble – catch it if you can.
The Worst Witch plays the Vaudeville Theatre, London until September 8th 2019 and you can find tickets here.