“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
Infantivorous witches, satiric references to Nazism and hints of Lovecraftian madness are just some of the wonderfully horrible elements in ‘The Witches’, a retelling of Roald Dahl’s story. If, for some tragic and unfathomable reason, you haven’t read the book this might seem a little ominous and bleak. You are correct; it is far too dark for adults. This production matches Dahl’s voice and speaks of horrors with humour, wonder, and imagination. I would recommend this to everyone although the subject matter deals with disturbing themes. Ideally, adults wouldn’t be admitted unless accompanied by children.
The Griffin Theatre Company production is from a theatrical adaptation by David Wood with additional dramaturgy by Chris Summers. The text and staging is mature, daring and bold and a refreshing development in children’s theatre but here’s the rub: it isn’t children’s theatre. The marketing says that it is suitable for ages 6-106. I would absolutely agree although the 6 year old would need to be remarkably theatre literate. Gone are the pantomime traditions and saccharine sing-alongs. With minimal staging and a one-person cast (who wears casual clothing not a glitter-and-wings costume) the audience is invited to apply imagination to be able to follow the performance.
The performance from Guy Edmonds is assured and energetic. As he completely embodies each character Edmonds gives a darkly comedic performance reminiscent of Rik Mayall (vale). Each character is distinct, even when two characters are having a rapid conversation. The primary character is an 8 year old boy. The excitement and enthusiasm that Guy has for both the play and this role is obvious. At the start of the performance, while the audience is taking their seats, Guy is there, on a crate, being very casual and from the moment we first see him, he seems approachable, friendly, and engaged. This approach created a fantastic mundanity as we have the everyday 8 year old to follow as the story unfolds. Each character, from child to witch, is entirely believable. Guy works hard to develop the characters and the interpretation is clever and genuine.
This knowing approach continues through the whole production. There is a respect for the source material as well as a respect for the audience. Saying that this is a production for children is slightly incorrect: It is a play for everyone that children will enjoy as much as adults. It plays like a Pixar film directed by David Lynch. I wouldn’t suggest this as an introduction to theatre, as some of the staging may be hard to follow for the uninitiated but there is enough in Guy’s performance to hold audience attention regardless. Yes, this is a great play for children. For adults, if you are willing to enter the story world and leave your big person prejudices at the door then ‘The Witches’ is something you should see.