REVIEW: THE WITCHES (Rose Theatre Kingston)

When a little boy unknowingly stumbles into the annual meeting of witches, he overhears their horrible plan to get rid of all the children in the world. Witches detest children and are planning to wipe them out like weasels; by turning them all into mice! With the help of his grandmother, he must use all his smarts and sneakiness and stop them before he gets squished in the process. Can he outwit the witches and save the children from their furry fate? In David Wood’s adaption of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, brave boys and girls are invited to watch this classic tale as it’s brought to life in a tremendously terrifying treat for the whole family.

​David Wood has adapted many Dahl’s stories into plays including The BFG, The Twits, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the World, George’s Marvellous Medicine, and The Magic Finger. Innately theatrical, Wood’s use of sound effects, lighting effects, puppetry, magic and fast paced action are what his children’s plays have become known for and The Witches was no exception.

​A small talented cast of seven and Nikolai Foster’s brilliant direction bring Wood’s The Witches to life in a way that can only be described as magical. I sat rapt as the well-known story played out before me and multiple characters came to life from page to stage. Fox Jackson-Keen brilliantly achieved a stand out performance as ‘Boy’. Jackson-Keen’s young talent shone as his ‘Boy’ deals with the death of his parents, adjusts to living with his grandmother, discovers the world is infected with dangerous witches out to squish children at all costs and being turned into a mouse-boy. Jackson-Keen expertly combines song, movement, musicianship and special effects to magically bring ‘Boy’ and the story of The Witches energetically to life. Karen Mann was warm, caring and a ‘Grandma’ to every child in the audience, Kieran Urquhart was a gluttonous ‘Bruno’ complimenting his best mate ‘Boy’ and Sarah Ingram effectively managed to terrify the children and charm the adults in her portrayal of the ‘Grand High Witch’. Elexi Walker, Sioned Saunders and Justin Wilman completed the ensemble, accompanying themselves and playing all other characters, each easily identifiable and effectively performed.

Isla Shaw’s design and clever use of projections allowed the stage to live each scene and setting, creating a mischievous and believable universe where witches are a terrifying reality. With the combined efforts of lighting, sound, movement and magic (created by David Phillips, Sebastian Frost, Melanie Knott and Neil Henry respectively) the cast were able to deliver well performed special effects causing mice to spectacularly fly through the air, witches to disappear and devilishly turning boys in mice. Costumes helped to perfectly accentuate each character, including the fun challenge of transforming seemingly normal-looking women into big nosed, fingernail-less, toeless, bright coloured hair witches!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to The Rose Theatre. It’s foyer, café and bar area is perfectly suited to family matinees or live Jazz cocktail evenings to satisfy both little and big kids and I wouldn’t hesitate travelling to Kingston to see another Rose Theatre Production. The Witches surpassed my expectations of what children’s theatre could achieve and I urge anyone who fell in love with Dahl’s original story or film to grab tickets to see this delightful production before a terrifying witch smells you out, steals you away with promises of chocolate and devilishly transforms you into a mouse, frog or cockroach!

Reviewed by Stuart James

The Witches plays at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 10 April 2016