Before there was Harry Potter, there was Mildred Hubble – this Christmas, The Worst Witch takes over Northampton’s Royal theatre.
I was a kid when the first Worst Witches books by Jill Murphy came out and to say they cast a spell on my imagination would be an understatement. So when I had the opportunity to see the well loved books brought to life on stage I jumped at the chance.
A Made in Northampton production, the story has been adapted by Emma Reeves and directed by Theresa Heskins along with an incredible creative team and cast. The play truly embodies the contemporary style of theatre that pushes boundaries of creativity that we have come to expect from the Made in Northampton offering.
The magical experience starts in the auditorium before the play even begins with actors interacting with audience members. As you wait for the lights to fall there are amusing ‘academy’ style banners espousing the academic accomplishments of Miss Cackle’s Academy, reminiscent of those you see in local schools.
To overcome the impossibilities of staging the extraordinary world of witchcraft, the ‘play within a play’, which is introduced at the start, seamlessly works to explain the ‘lack’ of real magic in the production. However the creative elements used to create the illusion of magic are certainly fantastical and quickly the mechanics behind them are easily forgotten when the imagination is allowed to take over. Cat hand puppets, physical theatre, and clever use of props are the tools for what Heskins describes as ‘a massive collective act of imagination’.
The design elements complement the sensational production; live music and singing, versatile set, imaginative costumes. There is something special about having musicians on stage throughout and the underscoring of scenes added to the atmosphere perfectly, bringing life to the play. The actual songs performed by the cast such as The Witching Kind, are catchy, contemporary and crowd pleasing! The use of soundscape from the whole cast is subtle and yet effective, with bubbling cauldrons, meowing cats and unexpected pops and whizzes, they create an atmosphere of a magical world. The storybook style set and lush lighting are just more highlights on the plentiful list of excuses to see The Worst Witch.
There are many stand out scenes to look forward, for example the the acrobatic scene with flying brooms and trapeze hoops, the emblematic witch brooms becoming a spooky forest and the literal ‘showstopping’ second half twist. The whole cast is fabulous and equally matched in talent which is extraordinary when so much is being asked of them. Mildred played by Danielle Bird is hilarious, likeable and the ideal ‘hero’ of the story, matched against Rosie Abraham’s Ethel as the quintessential snob and bully. Polly Lister as Miss Cackle is effervescent and such a versatile actor, without giving away too much, the multi rolling was truly outstanding! The talent of the cast is evident throughout and will be inspirational to young witches and wizards alike.
There are jokes for all the family and references to other famous witches in literature throughout is a nice touch. The play contains all the things we want in theatre this time of year, audience interaction, songs, heroes and villains, just like traditional panto, but it won’t leave a cheesy taste in your mouth. The whole audience was entranced by the production; young and old sat spellbound (Excuse the puns!)
A truly wonderful alternative to the traditional panto, certainly entertaining for the whole family this festive season!
P.S.Don’t forget to donate a couple of pounds this year to Royal & Derngate’s charitable initiative The Unforgettable Gift. For every £10 donated the theatre matches it to be able to gift local low income families theatre tickets to see wonderful productions such as The Worst Witch. Give the gift of the magic of theatre this Christmas.
The Worst Witch runs at Royal & Derngate until 30 December. Tickets available online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk or by calling the box office on 01604 624811
Rebecca is a drama teacher, actor and all round lover of theatre. She is new to the Northampton theatre scene, however is passionate about supporting the arts and artists. Becky dabbles in all areas of theatre in her spare time, her life really does revolve around the stage!