‘It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you’ was the sentimental thought drawn from the imaginative and childishly funny The Witches at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham.
Most people have read Roald Dahl’s The Witches or at least seen Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film adaptation – and to those of you that haven’t (especially the 90’s children like myself) I’ll just assume you spent your entire childhood under a rock. But, if for whatever reason, you don’t remember The Witches from your childhood The Crescents performance does both the book and the film a great justice. The moment in Roeg’s film when Anjelica Huston reveals her ghoulishly gruesome appearance is for children, pretty terrifying. This image pushed the fright scale more than any other contemporary children’s film and I’d say took over the original in sticking in our minds as the emblem for the tale of The Witches. This is something that clearly effected those producing this adaptation; The Grand High Witch sported the large ears and ugly “witchy” nose and was a believably dangerous threat.
Yet, that’s not to say the play was in any way menacing and left the young children watching crying for their mummies. To give an example; the harrowing vignettes about the danger of witches is accompanied by a child laying an egg, cuck-cooing around the stage making everyone giggle. Later in that scene the Grandmother explains to how to spot a witch to her Grandson, Luke Eveshim, the protagonist of the plot. The single spotlight highlighted the Grandmother and her terrified Grandson in the rocking chair and left them surrounded by an encroaching darkness. Until half way through a green screen appears lighting up a screen that had beforehand been blacked out, the silhouettes of a group of witches watching them from behind is revealed. Initially, the idea that they had been there the whole time was unsettling, but this thought was pushed aside as you admired imaginativeness of it. The exaggerated gestures poked fun at the witches making it a pleasant and theatrically creative scene that wasn’t at all scary.
The staging and large props were really inventive; they played with perspectives to make the actor of Luke seem the size of a mouse which is clearly difficult in a theatre setting. A giant witches hand came down from the stage and lifted a human size frog – and this is just one example of how The Crescent aimed to theatrically wow the children and adults. All of the staging elements very well captured (and I’m still not sure if this was intentional) the watercolours by Quentin Blake: the illustrator for Roald Dahl’s books. For those that were familiar with Roald Dahl’s books, that freewheeling style of drawing transports you right back into Dahl’s imaginative world. And for those that aren’t it was still in its own right charming to watch in that it reflects the playful perspective of a child.
The play is a short, sweet and playful adaptation. The only thing I can really criticise is that the witches lacked a little “oomph”, they opted to portray themselves as cackling, crazy ladies which would have been better accomplished if every actor really pushed that. But otherwise the play is a great watch for regardless of age.
You can catch The Witches at The Crescent Theatre from now until the 20th December 2014.