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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Witches
Wyndham's Theatre     Spring 2005

This stage version of Roald Dahl's semi-scary children's book is part out-of-season Christmas Panto, and part the sort of children's theatre that might play provincial church halls, but raised to a very high level of polish and professionalism.

Which is another way of saying that it is a quite delightful family entertainment, with something for both children and adults.

David Wood's adaptation follows Dahl's story of a boy who wanders into a witches' convention and ends up turned into a mouse pretty closely - my authority for that statement being my 11-year-old companion, who reports that the only major cut is some of the philosophising in the strikingly downbeat final scene.

I don't want to give away some of the plot surprises for those who don't know the book, but will just note that the witches aren't the familiar Halloween type, that two boys are turned into mice, and that they aren't really all that upset by the alteration, though they do make sure to get their revenge.

My young friend enjoyed the way the staging captured the feel and look of the book and of Quentin Blake's illustrations, and she particularly liked the puppet mice that scampered around the stage (though honestly I thought they looked a bit more like fat cats).

We both liked the scenes in which the actors playing the two bewitched boys appeared in panto mouse costumes, and also the general fluidity and wit of Jonathan Church's direction.

Among several set pieces that might have come straight out of Panto (or,indeed, Victorian music hall), one in which the boys-in-mouse-costumes have to conquer an oversized flight of stairs works delightfully, though one involving two comic chefs doesn't.

Television comic Ruby Wax plays the Grand High Witch, and is in fact one of the least interesting things in the show, phoning in a half-hearted Cruella deVille impersonation along with the oddest attempt at an accent since Dick Van Dyke's Cockney

(My young friend says it's supposed to be Norwegian, but it comes across as a really, really bad attempt at Italian with hints of Lithuanian)

Giles Cooper is amiable as the unnamed hero, conquering the challenge of playing part of the role in a mouse suit and part as the offstage voice of a puppet. Dilys Laye combines warmth with dry wit as the grandmother who adjusts remarkably well to her grandson's transformation, and Peter Holdway brings a loose-limbed comic choreography to several secondary roles.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Witches - Wyndham's Theatre 2005
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