Theatre Review: THE WITCHES – The Lowry, Salford

Cast of The Witches and Sarah Ingram

Sarah Ingram and the cast of THE WITCHES.  Image Credit: Catherine Ashmore

Playful, inventive and deliciously disgusting, THE WITCHES brings Roald Dahl’s iconic book to life

Roald Dahl’s award-winning novel THE WITCHES is brought to life in a tremendous new stage production directed by Nikolai Foster.

Originally published in 1983, THE WITCHES tells the story of a young boy who is sent to live with his Grandmother after his parents are killed in a horrific car crash. She tells him stories of vile, cunning and detestable child-hating witches who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. But when the boy’s grandmother gets sick and the two are forced to go to a hotel on the coast of England, the boy finds himself locked alone in a room with two hundred witches intent on turning him – and all other children – into mice.

Playful, inventive and deliciously disgusting, THE WITCHES is a fast-moving musical that brings Roald Dahl’s irreverent humour and innovative language to life. From the electrifying new score, to the mind-boggling illusions, this tremendously terrifying show brings a fresh and captivating appeal to Dahl’s iconic story and is full of magic thrills, spills and chills.

The 75-minute production is brought to life by a seven-strong cast of actor-musicians who play the main characters, as well as a myriad of other wacky roles.

Fox Jackson-Keen puts in a strong performance as the hero Boy, wowing the audience with his acrobatic skills which he no doubt honed during his time in BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL. Karen Mann is equally good as the eccentric but lovable Grandma, delivering a calm and beautifully measured performance.

Kieran Urquhart as Bruno and Elexi Walker as Mrs Jenkins get the biggest laughs from the audience, their over-the-top performances making the children laugh with delight.

The Witches Sarah Ingram

Sarah Ingram as the Grand High Witch in THE WITCHES.  Image Credit: Catherine Ashmore

But the star of the show is undoubtedly Sarah Ingram as the terrifying Grand High Witch. Sporting an evil German accent and a sheer glint in her eye, Ingram captures the essence of evil as she sniffs out the revolting and repulsive children with relish in a laugh-out-loud performance.

While the vast majority of this adaptation remains faithful to the book, I was disappointed to see some elements have been changed in the stage play. In Dahl’s book, the evil witches are famous for their square feet and bald heads but in this production, costume designer Isla Shaw opts for wacky wigs and flamboyant costumes instead, making the witches seem less scary and realistic. The spiral staircase placed in the middle of the stage also distorts the view of the rest of the set, particularly the projector screen at the back (which plays an integral part in some scenes), and therefore interrupts the flow of the piece.

That said, there is plenty to love about THE WITCHES, with the annual general meeting standing out as one of the highlights of the show. A special mention also must go to magic consultant Neil Henry who helps bring the madcap sorcery to life, as we watch a loopy witch get blown up and two boys turn in mice right before our eyes.

If you’re a fan of Dahl’s book, you’re sure to enjoy THE WITCHES. All in all, this is a charming, witty and fast-paced adaption that charms the adults and has the children laughing with delight.

4 out of 5 stars

THE WITCHES runs at The Lowry until Saturday 26 March 2016.