A bubbling brew of witchy wonderment swirls about the Vaudeville Theatre this summer as a new adaptation of Jill Murphy’s beloved The Worst Witch descends on the West End. A high-energy musical production with plenty of comedy, a smattering of physical theatre and a sprinkling of original songs, this show is a real delight for both adults and children. A refreshing, spellbinding escapade that relishes and celebrates its use of every tool in the theatrical toolbox to hold its audience’s attention, this is not to be missed!
The show begins as we find ourselves the welcome guests of a show devised by the students of Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, taking us on a whirlwind re-enactment of some of the turbulent events of Mildred Hubble’s first year at the school. Mildred finds herself enrolling in the Academy entirely by accident and struggles to keep step with her classmates as she enters the world of potion brewing and broomstick flying with no magical experience. Before long, she develops an enmity with snobby elitist Ethel Hallow while Maud Spellbody takes Mildred under her wing and helps her through her lessons. Everything goes swimmingly in their show, until headmistress Ada Cackle’s evil twin sister arrives on the scene and throws both the performance and the future of the school into jeopardy.
This adaptation of The Worst Witch takes hold of the much-loved adventures of Mildred Hubble and reinvigorates them for a theatrical audience. With puppetry, illusion, aerial work, dance, song and charming audience interaction, there is no dull moment as the story careens forward, with Mildred and her friends struggling to control the performance. The rollicking pace and endless energy bursting from the stage keep the show moving with some ingeniously choreographed scene transitions, courtesy of Movement Director Beverley Norris-Edmunds. The presentation of each character in this production is impressive too. Before the show starts, each of the students scampers about the auditorium, interacting with the children and setting the tone of the show as a real-life performance where we are being treated to a rare insight of the magical world. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the production is the inclusion of Luke Potter’s original music. The blending of up-tempo catchy refrains underscored throughout by moody, close harmonies excellently ties us to the school’s witchy but vibrant atmosphere.
Top of the bill, Danielle Bird’s Mildred Hubble positively shines with clumsy, artless charisma. As she tumbles about the stage and gets herself into trouble, the children in the audience lean forward with real concern before finding Bird’s wide-eyed grin and cheering her on again. Ethel on the other hand, played by Rosie Abraham, seethes with heightened acerbity which is quite delightful. Her sharp quips and continually affronted expression are expertly delivered and make for some very funny moments. The true highlight of the performance is Polly Lister, whose Miss Cackle (and indeed evil twin sister Agatha) is nothing short of perfection. Lister’s ability to juggle the two roles while orchestrating the rest of the cast and poking fun at the production itself is utterly mesmerising and she singlehandedly steers the show towards its triumphant ending. Special mention must be made for Molly-Grace Cutler, Megan Leigh Mason and Lauryn Redding who, as Miss Bat, Miss Drill and Griselda respectively, provide spine-tingling vocals as well as top notch live music throughout.
The Worst Witch is a national treasure in children’s entertainment, with fans spanning several decades. This production, expertly adapted by Emma Reeves, makes for a great family show which strikes all the right notes and keeps its entire audience – both young and old – engaged from start to finish.
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Manuel Harlan
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