Review: Roald Dahl’s The Witches At The Everyman

Sarah Ingram as Grand High Witch and Sioned Saunders as Witch Credit: Catherine Ashmore
THEATRE aimed at kids is not something I go to all that often – for obvious reasons – but I couldn’t resist Roald Dahl’s The Witches. I’ve always been a fan of this most dark and subversive of children’s authors and, I really liked the film. Before I get into the review, I need to mention an incident that occurred while I was waiting for the show to start… I’m all in favour of adults being able to take drinks into the auditorium even though it’s not something I do very often – not enough hands to drink and write at the same time. But children? I’m not so sure. I say this because I was sat just below the balcony and narrowly missed being drenched by a dropped glass of cola – I escaped with a few splashes to my coat and jeans. The rather posh lady to my left was incandescent with rage even though not a drop landed on her – she had a theory that the errant child was drinking lager and was going to have words with his mother. Fortunately, the seat to my right was vacant at the time of the deluge but when its occupant – a lovely Liverpool nan – arrived I warned her that there might be a few drips: “Don’t worry love” she said “I’ll just put me hood up.” God, I love Liverpool. Anyway, on with the show. It opens with all of the cast singing ‘hello’ to the audience and rather cleverly within the lyrics reminding the audience to switch off their mobile phones – probably a more effective way of telling children than a soulless, disembodied voice over the PA. The play proper starts with a car crash involving Boy’s parents and sees the poor orphan being shipped off to Oslo to live with Grandma who seems to know a lot about witches. As a result of the terms of his late parents will, that insists he completes his education in England, the pair are soon on their way to Newcastle with the help of a novel use of a standard lamp. Grandma becomes ill, not least because of her heavy smoking, and the doctor recommends that she takes a break by the sea. So off the they go to Bournemouth to stay in a hotel that is also the venue for the national convention of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children – all is not what it seems. It’s here that Boy, energetically played by Fox Jackson-Keen, meets up with Bruno, a boy who likes his food and amiably played by local lad Kieran Urqhart, a graduate of Young Everyman Playhouse. I won’t linger too much on the story because you either know it or I hope you’ll go and see this production. But, needless to say, Boy and Bruno get caught up with a load of witches and discover their wicked plan to eradicate children from England and both get turned into mice along the way. The scenes where the mice interact with humans is brilliantly done with lightning-quick changes of props to demonstrate the difference in scale – a perfectly normal banana in the hands of Grandma becomes a giant inflatable one when passed to Bruno. Actors who can sing, dance and play a variety of instruments always impress me and this cast that includes Musical Director Justin Wilman is superb. Wilman (Mr Jenkins) plays piano, violin and fabulous clarinet whilst Karen Mann (Grandma) plays piano and trumpet, Sioned Saunders (Witch) plays the flute and has a powerful singing voice and Fox Jackson-Keen acquits himself well on the guitar. Sarah Ingram plays the Grand High Witch with a wonderfully camp performance, employing a bizarre eastern European accent and she too has an amazing singing voice. Elexi Walker plays Mrs Jenkins and a witch and as the former plays it very scouse – I don’t know whether this was just for the benefit of a Liverpool audience but it worked perfectly. Special mention must go to Fox Jackson-Keen who is a natural when it comes to performing for children and he’s also quite the gymnast – back-flipping and tumbling across the stage with consummate ease. This is a fabulous show for children and adults alike and if you go, make sure you get a programme – there’s a very informative section on the relative dangers of the different types of witch. The Witches is at The Everyman until 19 March with morning and early evening performances. http://www.everymanplayhouse.com/   Review by Andy Green