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Review of The Worst Witch at the Vaudeville Theatre

Danielle Bird - Previous Cast - The Worst Witch - UK Tour - Photograph by Manuel Harlan
Danielle Bird – Previous Cast – The Worst Witch – UK Tour – Photograph by Manuel Harlan

Emma Reeves’ musical adaption of Jill Murphy’s classic Worst Witch fiction series provides gratifying and uplifting entertainment for the whole family thanks to its multi-talented cast and its (mostly) spectacular staging. With the exception of two wobbly creative moments in the first act (which will likely be rectified), director Theresa Heskins’ production of The Worst Witch is a feel-good firecracker and a must-see for every spirited girl 7 to 17!

It’s a delight to behold this cast and band, comprised entirely of women and girls, give a performance that soars to the rafters and tugs heartstrings with small-screen intimacy. This show, in the vein of Matilda or St Trinian’s, is pure entertainment and provides inspiration for everyone, male and female, who has known what it’s like to face an injustice or not belong… including grown-ups.

Danielle Bird plays Mildred, who finds herself accidentally in a girls’ boarding school for witchcraft (devised some 23 years before that other, globally-recognised, magical educational institution!). Bird, along with Rebecca Killick who plays her best friend Maud, represent the impressive skills of the highly talented quadruple-threats who populate this cast. Bird and Killick not only act, dance and sing but also impress with athletic aerial acrobatics in a broomstick-display scene. Versatile, compelling and seriously skilled, these actors command our attention with strong physical and emotional performances. Other actors, such as Meg Forgan and Lauryn Redding show the same commitment and craft whilst playing the bass and saxophone. Consuela Rolle, as Enid, delivers a stellar multi-skilled performance including a killer voice and top-notch magic tricks. The overall impact is joyous and the audience are happy to be drawn in.

Amongst so much talent, Polly Lister still manages to steal the show as Agatha/Miss Cackle. She offers a performance that includes everything from Broadway belting to some hilarious panto-inspired comedy turns. The second act soars to a whole new level of spectacle in large part thanks to Lister’s big numbers but also due to John Bulleid’s magic work plus a fundamentally slicker approach to stagecraft in all regards.

The Worst Witch uses a play-within-a-play device from the beginning which doesn’t feel especially vital but is not particularly problematic. However, the ‘evil twin’ plotline is more central to the story and better visualised; perhaps Reeves would have been better off focusing on it totally – especially if she and the producers are thinking about franchise and sequels rather than offering everything they’ve got in the first theatrical display. Nonetheless, if this meta-theatrical conceit is meant to explain why the ropes in the broom-stick flying scene are so prominent and the paper moon looks so homespun, it’s a miscalculation and distraction. The play exhilarates when its magic comes alive in the production itself. Although the charming intimacy of focusing on a misfit school girl is winning in the first act, there’s no reason for the audience to have to wait until after the interval to be theatrically enchanted. The second act rivets with spectacle and much higher production values: we can see that lighting designer Aideen Malone knows the craft by giving us wonderful dramatic moments and drawing the eye to all the right places – so why were we made to wait for this? I would have liked to have seen these higher production values delivered consistently right from the beginning to create more awe and less meta-theatrical school-play shtick. Likewise, the ‘invisibility’ gimmick in the first act fails from the Dress Circle. Even with a simple prop-driven theatrical approach (that works so beautifully with the puppet/kitten effect), Heskins may want to explore a more integrated approach with lighting that considers all the angles to take this production firmly to 5-star status.

I suspect some of the production hitches of Press Night will be smoothed out early in the run. Even with them, The Worst Witch is magical in both the ‘where-did-she-go’ and soul-affirming way. I hope everyone is lucky enough to check into Miss Cackles’ Academy for Witches this summer.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches is now accepting new students. So make sure you know the Witches’ Code, get yourself a familiar, and let Mildred Hubble show you the ropes!

Mildred Hubble is just an ordinary girl who found herself in an extraordinary place: a school for witches. But not everyone is thrilled by Mildred’s unexpected arrival and her less than predictable ways. Can she overcome the objections of stern Miss Hardbroom and the conniving tricks of jealous Ethel Hallow?

Now in her final year, accident-prone Mildred and her fellow pupils are about to embark on their most important mission yet, when an old enemy returns with a plan for revenge that threatens not just the Academy, but the whole world?

Featuring all of Jill Murphy’s beloved characters, this action-packed new stage adaptation by Emma Reeves (Hetty Feather) is directed by Theresa Heskins (2017 UK Theatre Award for Best Show for Children and Young People) and includes original songs, music, magic and a dose of Mildred?s unique brand of utter pandemonium!

Important Information
BOOKING PERIOD: 24 July 2019 – 8 September 2019
Approx 2hrs 10mins including one interval
AGE RESTRICTION: 7
Vaudeville Theatre
404 Strand, London WC2R 0NH

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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