“Her witty modern-day lyrics are reminiscent of the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda”
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Those immortal words the Bard penned in his rustic comedy, As You Like It, seem as true as ever in this recent musical adaptation of the play which makes its European debut. Produced by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in partnership with the National Theatre’s Public Acts, a national initiative to make inclusive, community theatre, it brings a one hundred-strong cast from all walks of life together to create this vibrant version which is unlike any other production of As You Like It you will have seen.
In a condensed telling of Shakespeare’s tale we find Duke Senior (Rohan Reckord) has been banished from the court by his brother Duke Frederick (Curtis Young), finding solace and a new home within the Forest of Arden, where many of his supporters begin to converge and take commune. In paranoid rage, Duke Frederick lashes out at anyone that threatens his authority, including his niece, Rosalind (Ebony Jonelle), who is exiled. Taking on a male disguise, she similarly flees to the Forest of Arden bringing in tow her cousin Celia (Marjorie Agwang), and the trusty clown Touchstone (Vedi Roy). However, before her banishment, Rosalind falls head over heels in love with Orlando (Linford Johnson) whom she must conceal her true emotions from when their paths cross again in the forest.
The original songs that interject this adaptation, help to flesh the characters out further, giving their actions and motives more depth. Composed by American Shaina Taub, she is certainly a name to listen out for in the future. Her witty modern-day lyrics are reminiscent of the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda and help to give a nearly 400-year old story a current relevance.
This may be a community project, but by and large the main characters are played by trained actors. Stand outs include the incredibly watchable Ebony Jonelle who offers a vivacious Rosalind, whilst Vedi Roy as Touchstone delivers the sassiest clown in town. Rohan Reckord has such a smooth voice it will undoubtedly give you goosebumps when he sings.
Nevertheless, it is the amalgamation between the trained actor and the ‘average Joe’ that really is something special, proving that a passion for theatre is what truly wins out and that anybody has a right and the capability to perform on stage. During the colossal group scenes, it is nigh impossible to not feel moved seeing a broad range of people of all ages, abilities, cultures, and backgrounds coming together. The sheer joy that beams from the stage is infectious. The carnival-like atmosphere and colourful costumes (Hayley Grindle and Daisy Blower) make it a party you never want to leave.
“The energy of the performance carries the story along, sweeping the audience up in a tide of laughter”
This review is a joint effort by me and nine year old Manu, a big fan of the Worst Witch books and TV series. We both enjoyed it a lot.
The book was adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves, who also devised the TV series. She has a real understanding of Jill Murphy’s books, and has done a great job of bringing the world of Mildred Hubble and her friends to the stage. Manu says it was as good as the TV episodes, but different. Theresa Heskins, the director, was faced with a host of challenges including disappearing people, broomstick flying, cats, and a Shenanigans spell. Luckily she had a magic advisor, John Bulleid, an esteemed member of the magic circle, who clearly knows a thing or two about how to make the impossible happen. We were still trying to figure out how they got Enid into the suitcase, as we walked to the tube station after the show.
Danielle Bird is a wonderfully endearing and hopeless Mildred, Out of her depth but brave enough to stand up to bullies big and small and to fight for her friends. Manu’s favourite characters from among the children were Ethel and Enid, played by Rosie Abraham and Consuela Rolle. He said Ethel was really good at being mean and just full of herself and Enid was crazy funny. I agree with him, Abrahams kept Ethel at just the right pitch of vile, making her change of heart quite poignant, and Rolle’s Enid is a real force of nature. Mildred and her best friend Maud, played by Rebecca Killick did an impressive piece of comedy aerial work on their broomsticks and developed their friendship through adversity very nicely.
Manu’s favourite adult in the show was the hugely impressive Polly Lister, who played both Miss Cackle and Agatha, her evil twin. Before the show started we read the programme, and wondered how she would manage to do both. Manu tried to figure out how she would be able to manage if she had a scene that both characters were in. Well, we discovered that she managed very well indeed, giving an absolute tour de force performance in the second act, belting out songs, killing a sock and generally becoming hilariously unhinged. It was Manu’s ‘best bit,’and mine too.
Manu’s final comment is that he would tell his friends to go and see it, because it’s really good and they would like it.
Simon Daw’s simple, quirky design nicely evokes the feeling of a school for witches, and the sound and lighting, by Leigh Davis and Aideen Malone conjure magic when needed, and the right atmosphere all the time. There are some cracking songs too, composed by Luke Potter. I’m humming one as I write this. The music is performed by four versatile cast members, two of them playing multiple instruments.
The Worst Witch is a fabulous fun show for kids and adults. The energy of the performance carries the story along, sweeping the audience up in a tide of laughter, drama and a real empathy for girls like Mildred. It’s a show with a big heart and a large helping of joy.