“The show’s concept and originality cannot be faulted, the performances of the two Rosies consistently and bracingly daft”
It seems bad form to take comedy too seriously and the sillier the comedy, the sillier it may appear to dwell on seemingly trivial matters, like Facebook posts being rendered unreadable due to their projection onto the deep folds of curtains. But these were probably good lines, possibly vital to understanding the ornate ending of this funny, often brilliant, obscurely named, occasionally puzzling, two-woman, possibly three-woman, show.
The idea of using a funeral service as a device to tell a person’s story is promising. Performers Rosie Abrahams and Rosie Frecker (using their own names as character names) showcase an array of characters, each of whom takes it in turns to remember the life of Sarah M Anson who died in a bizarre incident in a cave. Anson, too, exists in real life as part of a co-writing team with Máirín O’Hagan as Queynte Laydies. O’Hagan is the originator of this particular piece having not only been credited with a version as far back as 2015 but before that having written a similarly themed and even more delightful sounding work, ‘Bereavement. The Musical.’ This rendition is probably adapted for VAULT Festival to suit the copious comedic and vocal talents of its two stars.
Rosie and Rosie begin proceedings dressed in black as the two half-sisters of the deceased and each other, born on the same day to different mothers, impregnated around 25 minutes apart by Darren, a father absent from his daughter’s funeral due to a previous engagement at a christening.
This sets the scene for the further unravelling of Sarah’s tragic backstory, first by a manically upbeat Reverend Ro Hooley, an inappropriately high-energy Aussie priest, then by Simon, Sarah’s droning upper-class ex, both the creations of Rosie Abraham, who brings a West End gusto to all her characterisations. Rosie Frecker’s characters are slightly more modulated. One, a frustrated, flouncy female pastor speaks as Simon’s mother and is particularly well realised. Others include a 4-year-old recorder player, a church hanger on and toward the end, a surgeon with some important revelations that seem hurriedly devised to extricate the plot from its predicament.
The show’s concept and originality cannot be faulted, the performances of the two Rosies consistently and bracingly daft. There are outstanding moments in the writing, but they are betrayed by a rushed production and a few self-inflicted wounds. In concocting a complex story, the creatives seem to get side-tracked by their own running jokes and the enterprise ends in a bit of a squidgy mess. However, it’s a good-natured mess, and from what we can tell, it’s what Sarah would have wanted.
“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.