With Halloween behind us, thoughts of witches and magic potions might have been replaced with Father Christmas and mince pies, but at the National Theatre, this year’s festive production is a wickedly inventive adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, with book and lyrics by Lucy Kirkwood and music and lyrics by Dave Malloy.
Directed by Lyndsey Turner, this spectacle of a production closely follows the plot of Dahl’s book, and the later film adaptation starring Angelica Houston. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that Roald Dahl’s work has remained so popular is that as an author he never attempted to hide the truth from young readers.
In The Witches, ten year old Luke loses his parents in a car crash and is taken in by his cigar smoking Nordic grandmother whom he’s never met. It’s obviously a difficult start for the musical but Turner’s production handles it sensitively and in line with the author’s original portrayal.
The grandmother in the story, as well as being an unconventional guardian, is also a witch hunter of sorts, and educates Luke on how the witches of England hide in plain sight. While on holiday, Luke and his gran stumble across the Annual General Meeting of the Witches, and together they formulate a plan to wipe out them out, before they can enact a plan to rid England of children once and for all.
It can be pretty scary at times, anyone of my generation might still be having nightmares at the thought of Angelica Houston peeling off a latex face, and here on stage, the production mimics the same sort of effects. The scarier parts though are usually tied up in some sort of humour and on the whole this is a funny and enjoyable musical, if a little too long for the youngest of audience members.
Sally Ann Triplett is delightful as Gran, transitioning through the course of the show from a harsh and disillusioned old woman to a loveable matriarch who does the best she can for Luke. The highlight of The Witches though, has to be Daniel Rigby as the highly strung hotel manager, Mr Stringer. Rigby throws himself around the stage in all manner of preposterous situations, and the audience, both young and old, lap it up.
This is indeed a musical for young people, and fittingly it’s led by a young actor, at this performance a sensational Franke Keita in the role of Luke, who was accompanied by a remarkably talented George Menezes Cutts as Bruno and the vocally perfect Asanda Abbie Masike as Helga.
Lizzie Clachan’s delightful set sits atop a revolve and is constantly transforming itself into something new, the vibrancy of the design matches the powerful music which is consistently upbeat and gives us more than one earworm to hum on the way home.
Fans of this Roald Dahl story will be overjoyed at seeing The Witches brought to life on stage, although more Halloween than Christmas, this feels like a perfect festive alternative to pantomime or Dickins.
Roald Dahl’s The Witches is at the National Theatre until 27th January 2024.