The Worst Witch Review, Vaudeville Theatre, West End
PUBLISHED: 12:33 29 July 2019
A zesty adaptation of Jill Murphy’s classic boarding school saga is a bubbling cauldron of girl power and magical power that had me spellbound
Couched as a school play telling the story of Mildred Hubble's arrival at Miss Cackle's Academy of Witchcraft, the opening speech makes pointy-hatted reference to Jill Murphy's much-loved books as the first to be set at a magical boarding school.
First published in 1974, when JK Rowling was nine, surely Hogwarts owes a debt to Murphy's creation, just as her own harks back to Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers with priggish prefects and talk of 'snobs' and 'plebs'.
Either way, Murphy's accident-prone but warm-hearted Mildred has endured and gets an absolutely first rate adaptation by supernaturally inventive director Theresa Heskins and Emma Reeves, who as lead writer on the TV series is clearly on and across this material.
With an all-female cast, including actor-musicians belting out Luke Potter's raunchy, rocky numbers to tell a story of loyalty, bravery and ingenuity overcoming evil, there's a proto-feminist bent to a show which uses puppetry, circus and a sprinkle of stage magic to weave its spell.
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Heskins and team play the whole adventure with a huge panto-esque knowing wink - my eight year old was on the edge of her seat, mouth agape as we were exhorted to hold hands to break an evil spell, hide Mildred from Miss Cackle's evil twin Agatha or watch Enid Nightshade disappear into a suitcase.
From a non-witching family, Mildred struggles to impress austere but acute Miss Hardbroom, falls foul of a looky-likey potion from superior, self-serving Ethel Hallow and becomes BFF with Maud Spellbody and noisy, naughty Enid.
But while running away from Miss Cackles, after a blundering broomstick demonstration, she stumbles on evil Agatha's plan to take over the academy and returns to save the day.
There are stand-out turns from Consuela Rolle as a 'street' Enid, Rosie Abraham as an insufferably disdainful Ethel and Polly Lister's double bubble as kindly cardigan-toting Miss Cackle and her crazy besequinned attention hungry sister.
But really everyone is pulling together in this zesty thoroughly-theatrical magical romp.
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