Review: Roald Dahl’s The Witches @ The Lowry, Salford Quays

A new production of The Witches transforms Roald Dahl’s 1983 novel into a fast-paced musical with the use of special effects, impressive athleticism and, of course, magic.

In fact, a professional magic consultant was brought in to make the on-stage stunts and wizardry even more of a spectacle.

And a spectacle is exactly what this Curve and Rose Theatre production is.

Adapted by David Wood and directed by Nikolai Foster, a cast of just seven bring to life Dahl’s grotesque sense of humour to create a show that plays out like a dark pantomime.

Like many of Dahl tales, The Witches is gruesome – full of tragedy and child-cruelty – and yet you know that you’ll be left with a smirk.

You can be sure with Dahl that justice will be served before the final act is over.

After all, it is Dahl’s take on justice, or vengeance, which makes the conclusions to his stories so satisfying. 

Our young hero of the story, known only as Boy, is convincingly played by adult actor Fox Jackson-Keen.

The actor, who previously starred in Billy Elliot The Musical, quickly wins children over with his acrobatic skills.

When Boy is orphaned by a car accident, he moves to Norway to live with his chain-smoking Grandma.

Thankfully, Grandma happens to be an expert in identifying the child-killing witches that live amongst us.

However, when the pair returns to England you can expect some young audience members to get a little spooked.

They take a trip to Bournemouth as Grandma recovers from a bout of pneumonia, only to discover that their seaside hotel is also the venue for the annual meeting of England’s witches.

Sarah Ingram’s performance of the Grand High Witch stands out in this production, bringing laughs and horror in equal measure with cartoon-like facial expressions and a Germanesque accent.

A projection screen backing the minimalist set allows Ingram’s wicked presence to be felt even when she is not on stage.

Elexi Walker’s portrayals of a witch, a frog and a loud-mouthed Liverpudlian mother are also highlights.

Walker’s physicality on-stage rings true of the larger-than-life characters that Dahl created in his writing, and it’s hard to take your eyes off her when she’s centre stage.

A score by composer Douglas Irvine controls the pace of the production, with actors often playing instruments on stage to accompany their colleagues’ performances.

Although there is no fairy-tale ending – this is Dahl after all­ – children will love this story, and this production.

Dahl’s canon almost always lends itself well to theatre adaptations because his grizzly tales somehow manage to bring out the child in adults.

The not-so-young seemed to be enjoying the on-stage storytelling as much as their kids throughout the 75-minute performance.

This production of the Witches gives you the chance to reacquaint yourself with Dahl, and perhaps a younger you.

Photos courtesy of Catherine Ashmore, with thanks.

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