The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The Witches
by Lizzie Loveridge

A Real Witch hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red-hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine.
--- Roald Dahl
The Witches
Dilys Laye as the Grandmother with the mice
(Photographs: KWPR)
Roald Dahl's stories are very popular with children for their spine tingling scariness. No stage adaptation can afford to have in the audience small children screaming in terror and bursting into tears. Any theatrical version of The Witches has to tread a fine broomstick between being frightening in a manageable way and the kind of play that gives children nightmares for weeks on end. The result of course will not please all of the people all of the time. So Birmingham Repertory's production of The Witches may not be as nasty as the critics might have hoped but I found it charming, inventive and just perfect theatre for children.

Jonathan Church's production uses video projection and puppets, cleverly changing the scale so that we can believe two small boys have been turned into mice by the feared English witches. These witches in floral dresses, gloves and permed wigs are masquerading in a Bournemouth hotel as a convention of matrons and spinsters dedicated to preventing cruelty to children, when their real aim of course is the eradication of children everywhere. The witches are led by the villainous Grand High Witch (Ruby Wax) who underneath her chic little hat has a bald head with suppurating sores true to Quentin Blake's original drawings for Dahl's stories. The boy (Giles Cooper) who lives with his wise but unconventional Norwegian grandmother (Dilys Laye) stumbles into the witches' convention room, is caught and turned into a mouse, as is his greedy, doughnut stuffing friend, Bruno (Keith Saha).

To cope with the demands of weekly touring (this production finishes at the Churchill, Bromley on 26th June) the children are played by adults in short trousers. Giles Cooper switches the short trousers for a mouse costume and the combination of puppets and life size mice costumes allow us to imagine that they are small. Ruby Wax struts and poses as the glamorous witch leaderene with an interesting European accent which she holds for the duration. She is obviously enjoying the part. Her own nose has been built up by make up into one which is very long and curved and her scalp is a trichologist's nightmare. Dilys Laye is very comforting as the confidante Norwegian grandmother who accepts her grandson's rodential persona and offers great advice.

One scene captivates everyone. To a musical accompaniment but otherwise silent, the two boys in mouse costume attempt to climb a huge staircase in what is almost a dance of determination for someone suddenly finding himself a few inches tall in a world designed for giants. This scene is touching, comic and poetic. Bruno's predicament is how to climb the stair and bring with him a large piece of candy, so this scene has everything, adversity, challenges and human frailty. I liked too the chefs in the kitchen who spit in the soup in the time honored tradition of underpaid catering workers.

The sets range from the grand hotel rooms and kitchens to the Norwegian cottage; they are colourful and fun. The costumes too are vibrant; for example, Bruno's father in an emerald green and orange striped suit and the hotel major domo in lavender with gold epaulettes and coat furniture. I liked the use of video so that when the grandmother explains the essential characteristics of witches, we see the projection of one witch's toeless feet, her bald head, her nailless fingers. Special effects enable the children to transpose into mice or the witches to come to a grisly end but don't leave the more sophisticated of us asking how they were done. The final thought is worthy but one which might have made Dahl squirm: the grandmother reminds us that people deserve not to be judged on their appearance. Would that also apply to scrofulous witches with no toes?

The Witches
Written by Roald Dahl
Adapted by David Wood
Directed by Jonathan Church

Starring: Ruby Wax, Dilys Laye
With: Giles Cooper, Isabel Ford, Chris Hawley, James Hirst, Peter Holdway, Camilla Mathias, Keith Saha, Catherine Skinner, Katerina Jugati
Design: Simon Higlett
Lighting: Mark Jonathan
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Illusions Director: Paul Kieve
Choreographer: Jenny Arnold
Running time: One hour forty minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6633
Booking at the Wyndhams to 2nd April 2005 and then on tour but without Ruby Wax.
London, Wyndhams Theatre: Thursday March 3 - Saturday April 2
Belfast, Opera House: Tuesday April 5 - Saturday April 9
Wimbledon, New Wimbledon Theatre: Wednesday April 20 - Sunday April 24
Southampton, Mayflower Theatre: Tuesday April 26 - Saturday April 30
Plymouth, Theatre Royal: Tuesday May 3 - Saturday May 7
Woking, New Victoria Theatre: Wednesday May 11 - Sunday May 15
Norwich, Theatre Royal: Tuesday May 17 - Saturday May 21
Oxford, Playhouse: Tuesday May 24 - Sunday May 29
Wolverhampton, Wolverhapton Grand: Wednesday June 1 - Saturday June 4
Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes Theatre: Wednesday June 6 - Sunday June 12
Glasgow, Theatre Royal: Wednesday June 15 - Sunday June 19
Bromley, Churchill Theatre: Tuesday June 21 - Sunday June 26
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th March 2005 performance at the Wyndhams Charing Cross Road London WC2 (Tube: Leicester Square)
London Theatre Walks

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
London Sketchbook

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
Our Review

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from