Thrills and Spills - The Witches at the Olivier
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES.
Roald Dahl The Witches
In these days of inclusivity, I am not sure how acceptable it is to be a witch? Certainly a modern approach towards difference may endanger the physical excesses of the usual pantomime villain. Does the portrayal of Captain Hook discriminate against those with only one hand? So we come to Roald Dahl’s villains in the National Theatre’s rewrite of his classic The Witches.
The RSC has had a huge hit with Matilda originating in Stratford and still running in the West End. Matilda suffers less political incorrectness because her mother is into Strictly Come Dancing and her parents detest books and adore television. They are allowed to be ridiculed but should we be nicer to Miss Trunchbull? Some libraries have banned The Witches because of its misogyny.
Lucy Kirkwood has written the book for the musical after Roald Dahl’s novel, the songs are by Dave Malloy and both Kirkwood and Malloy wrote the lyrics. Lyndsey Turner directs, Stephen Mears is the choreographer. Lizzie Clachan has designed the glorious sets and extravagant costumes.
The witches in the National Theatre’s musical are ordinary, self-effacing middle aged and younger women. Your lollipop lady, the school crossing patrol person is probably one. By way of historical background, we see 17th century witchfinders capturing a woman who looks like a witch but who isn’t as all the real witches are disguised as ordinary.
Meet our child hero Luke (Frankie Keita) who parents sadly die in a car crash and his Norwegian grandmother, Gran (Sally Ann Triplett) comes to care for him. Gran is an expert on witches and how to defend yourself against them. Luke and Gran go to Bournemouth to the Magnificent Hotel for Gran to recuperate from a heart attack. The hotel is run by Mr Stringer (the very talented comedian Daniel Rigby) who is hysterical about finding mice in the hotel, mice who delightfully run across the stage avoiding capture. Gran has explained to Luke that witches want to turn all children into mice.
What Gran and Luke do not know is that a Witch Convention is taking place in this hotel and the Grand High Witch (Katherine Kingsley) will be planning the extermination of all children in the nation. A posh boy called Bruno (George Menezes Cutts) is also staying there. He is a talented singer and dancer and he and Bruno being the same age will play together. Children smell bad to witches and their extra large nostrils can sniff them out. Helga (Asanda Abbie Masike) shares her witch hunting experience.
In the First Act Bruno leads the cast in a joyous dance of pink cupcakes and rock candy, almost getting a standing ovation. So with an interval for ice creams for the audience the show runs at two hours 45 minutes, a long time for children to sit still making the show more suitable for those over ten.
Early in the second act, Bruno and Luke are turned into mice, a challenge in the theatre met with a costume and large props for the boys, and mechanical mice scuttling across the floor avoiding the clog dancers. There are great visual treats, the black claws that move and descend towards the stage and a beautiful kitchen set for the cook chorus to work in and Bruno Poet’s lighting. The range of music gives variety but you cannot always hear the words when a group is singing but you will get the gist.
I don’t want to spoil the ending but there will be a population explosion of mice to upset Mr Stringer. The show is run by child actors, singers and dancers with remarkably large parts all earning respect from their contemporaries in the audience. This is a superb Christmas show from the National with plenty to please children and adults alike.
A Note about Witches
Ready to Go
How to Recognise a Witch
Magnificent Bruno Sweet Bruno
Down with Children
Don’t Say Mice
When I Was Young
Wouldn’t It Be Nice?
Out! Out! Out!
Get Up (Reprise)
The Heart of a Mouse
Book and Lyrics by Lucy Kirkwood
Original novel by Roald Dahl
Music and Lyrics by Dave Molloy
Directed by Lyndsey Turner
Sally Ann Triplett
George Menezes Cutts
Jersey Blu Georgia
Asanda Abbie Masike
Director: Lyndsey Turner
Choreographer: Stephen Mears
Designer: Lizzie Clachan
Musical Supervisor : Nigel Lilley
Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
Sound Designer: Alexander Caplan and Ian Dickinson
Video : Ash J Woodward
Musical Director: Cat Beveridge
Illusions: Chris Fisher, Will Houstoun
Running Time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Booking until 27th January 2024
London SE1 9PX
Tube/Rail : Waterloo
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Olivier Theatre on 22nd November 2023