Beloved Roald Dahl classic The Witches gets the musical treatment in a new National Theatre production, just in time for Christmas. A co-production with the Roald Dahl Story Company, this new musical features a book by Olivier Award-winner Lucy Kirkwood (Mosquitoes), music by Tony Award nominee Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) and lyrics by both. Filled with wit, daring and heart, The Witches is directed by Lyndsey Turner and provides festive family fun in the form of a rip-roaring musical version of Roald Dahl’s timeless tale.
The plot of the musical follows Dahl’s original story and it’s subsequent film versions fairly closely. Everything you know about witches is wrong. Forget the pointy hats and broomsticks: they’re the most dangerous creatures on earth. And now they’ve come up with their most evil plan yet. The only thing standing in their way is Luke and his Gran. But he’s ten and she’s got a dodgy heart. Time is short, danger is everywhere and they’ve got just one chance to stop the witches from squalloping every stinking little child in England!
For the National Theatre, Lyndsey Turner (The Crucible, Under Milk Wood, Top Girls) directs an astoundingly talented cast of young and adult actors. On Press night we were treated to Bertie Caplan (Watch on the Rhine, Carnoval Row, Doc Martin) as Luke, Cian Eagle-Service (Love Never Dies in Concert, Les Misérables, Mary Poppins) as Bruno and Jersey Blu Georgia (The Crucible, The Duchess of Malfi, Bonnie and Clyde) as Helga.
As Luke, Bertie Caplan was absolutely brilliant. Confidently leading the show, Caplan’s careful characterisation aptly handled the emotion of loosing Luke’s parents, almost losing his grandmother, being terrorised by witches and learning how long mice live for. Performing with vocal finesse he held his own with the rest of the cast and seemed to be having the time of his life.
As Gran’s best friend Helga, Jersey Blu Georgia gave a sweet performance and really came into her own during the second act. As posh Bruno, Cian Eagle-Service received one of the biggest applauses of the evening for his rendition of show-stopping Bruno Sweet Bruno. Look out Charlie Stemp, tap-dancing showman Eagle-Service is coming for your gig!
Moving on to the adult cast, Katherine Kingsley (Top Girls, Party Time/Celebration, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) gave a superb performance as the Grand High Witch. She commanded the stage in every scene and her Act Two show-stopper Wouldn’t It Be Nice? had the older audience members in fits of laughter. Sally Ann Triplett (Oklahoma!, Anything Goes, Carrie) as Gran was absolutely stunning. As the heartbeat of the show, her Gran was caring, dangerous and vocally beautiful. While every line Gran was given seemed iconic, in Triplett’s hands the audience really felt a genuine connection between her and Caplan’s Luke and her performance of When I Was Young at the top of Act Two stopped the show cold. Brava!
Bursting with energy, the remaining adult members of the large cast all performed brilliantly as the audience was treated to a chorus of dastardly deceptive Witches and zainy Hotel Magnificent staff. Completing the younger cast was an extremely talented group of younger actors, all taking parts explaining how the witches had turned them into animals or intimate objects through hilarious monologues and sweet, joyous songs.
What makes The Witches so fun it’s its use of special effects. From face removing witches to boys transforming to mice, this production had it all! Lizzie Clachan’s set design and Chris Fisher and Will Houston’s illusions combined to create a world that was mysterious, magical and enchanting really making this production of The Witches everything you hoped it would be and more.
The Witches is a hilarious, mischievous and magical production, sure to entertain even your littlest mice. Fancy making a day of it? There’s even a bookable discovery trail based around The Witches that sees young visitors completing a series of challenges in a free, family friendly puzzle activity around the National Theatre Building. Bookings for this can be made on their website. If that’s not enough, the back of the show programme has fun activities young audience members can complete while they’re waiting for the show to begin or at interval. The National Theatre’s The Witches really is the perfect festive family treat of the season. Book now!
Reviewed by Stuart James