Review: The Witches offers a superb celebration of mischief in Stratford

Carol Roache as the Grand High Witch
Carol Roache as the Grand High Witch

Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Witches at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford

The Bear Pit’s version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches is a like a game made up by children, rich with imagination and spoken in their own language.

Boy (Christopher Kingdom) and his Grandmother (Pamela Hickson) travel from Norway to England and find themselves staying in a hotel where all of the nation’s witches are gathering for their Annual General Meeting. Grandmother is a retired witch hunter and so alerts Boy to the dangers. Just as well, because under the dastardly leadership of the Grand High Witch (Carol Roache) they are planning to wipe out all the children of England with a magic potion that will turn them into mice. Can they be stopped?

Of course they can. This is pantomime after all, but with an edge. There are goodies and baddies and some wonderful characters in between. Laura Hayward is delightfully infuriating as Bruna, the spoiled-brat offspring of Mr and Mrs Jenkins (Stephanie Surrey and Paul Tomlinson) who are all money and mouth. Then there’s the Hotel Manager (Thomas Hodge) who almost steals the show with a marvellous display of physical theatre. I hope we see more of him. There’s a great coven of witches too, intent on villainy and quite delicious in their horribleness. There are lots of rude noises and plenty of references to things unmentionable in polite company: just what kids (and plenty of adults) like.

The Witches is a celebration of mischief, and is superb entertainment for this and any other season. The audience was thrilled by it, and I’d gladly recommend you see it but the whole run is sold out. Lucky for some!

* The Witches runs until December 9. Call 01789 403416 to book.