Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Enchanting Transformation: Navigating Roald Dahl's Classic in 'The Witches' at the National Theatre – A Magical, Yet Sanitized, Rendition

Enchanting Transformation: Navigating Roald Dahl's Classic in 'The Witches' at the National Theatre – A Magical, Yet Sanitized, Rendition
Thursday, 23 November 2023 06:48

In the perennial quest for a festive blockbuster, the National Theatre has set its sights on Roald Dahl's beloved yet controversial classic, "The Witches." With a track record of mixed results in previous attempts to capture the magic of the season, from "The Light Princess" to "Pinocchio" and last year's "Hex," the National Theatre now presents a high-budget musical adaptation of Dahl's 1983 tale. Priced at a premium of £99 for top-tier tickets, the production, adapted by Lucy Kirkwood, promises a departure from her previous work, "The Welkin," offering a lively contrast with its focus on age-old fears surrounding female power.

Unlike the emphasis on female narratives seen in "Matilda" and Kirkwood's earlier work, "The Witches" centers around the journey of Luke, an orphaned boy. Informed by his Norwegian grandmother about covens plotting in every corner and a witchy conspiracy to turn children into slayable rodents through poisoned sweets, the story unfolds in a genteel south coast hotel. While Kirkwood and her team, including American composer Dave Malloy, director Lyndsey Turner, and choreographer Stephen Mear, invest care and ingenuity in Dahl's cautionary tale, the psychological development of the boy remains minimal. The narrative tends to lean towards stereotyping adult female duplicity, a theme that dominates the opening number with ladies extolling domestic joys before revealing snarling alter-egos—an entertaining point reiterated to diminishing effect.

Critics have raised concerns about the potential misogyny in "The Witches," but the issue seems less problematic in this rendition, albeit lacking in substantial dramatic impact. The production's biggest question mark revolves around how Dahl himself might have reacted to this extravaganza, featuring kids cheerfully singing inside packing cases and delivering cute numbers reminiscent of "Nativity." While there are glimpses of Dahl's signature moments, the overall tone leans towards sanitization, leaving audiences to ponder the delicate balance between preserving the essence of a classic and catering to contemporary sensitivities.

Yet, even as I delve into nuanced critique, it's essential to acknowledge that this production, in terms of sheer exuberance and coherence, outshines the RSC's festive offering, "The Box of Delights." A symphony of songs, scenes, and standout performances graces the stage—Daniel Rigby's portrayal of the maniacal hotelier Mr. Stringer injects a delightful note of comic darkness, Sally Ann Triplett embodies eccentric lovability as Gran, and Katherine Kingsley's Grand High Witch delivers a sharp-tongued solo reveling in the liberation from child-care responsibilities.

Opening night witnessed commendable performances from the young actors as well. Bertie Caplan's portrayal of the irrepressible Luke and Cian Eagle-Service's formidable turn as Bruno, a sweet-toothed posh-boy with a penchant for the ladies, showcased terrific talent. Bruno's tap-dancing sugar-rush of a show-stopper added a memorable highlight to the evening.

Undoubtedly, the production offers festive fun, aligning with the spirit of the season. However, my enchantment, while present, falls short of being all-encompassing. The show runs until January 27, and for those seeking a dose of holiday merriment, tickets can be found at nationaltheatre.org.uk.

In conclusion, while "The Witches" at the National Theatre boasts a commendable array of exuberance, coherence, and standout performances, it falls just shy of casting a fully enchanting spell. The production, with its moments of comic darkness, eccentric lovability, and sharp-tongued solos, certainly holds its own against festive counterparts. The young talents, especially Bertie Caplan and Cian Eagle-Service, shine brightly, adding to the overall enjoyment of the evening.

As the show runs until January 27, there's ample time for audiences to partake in the holiday merriment it offers. For those seeking a lively and entertaining experience, "The Witches" may well prove to be a delightful addition to the festive season. However, while it captures the spirit of the occasion, my personal bewitchment remains somewhat tempered. Nevertheless, for an evening of joyous theatrics, tickets are available at nationaltheatre.org.uk, ensuring a memorable outing during the winter festivities.


Maria Almasri
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