“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.
“The production is visually stunning and the action carefully choreographed, with clear lines of symmetry throughout”
Written in 1900, and first performed in 1901, Three Sisters is one of Chekhov’s best known plays. If you’re a theatre lover, chances are you will have seen it performed at least once. What you almost certainly won’t have seen is the play as it was written, in Russian. (Don’t worry, there are surtitles). The Maly Drama Theatre production is in London from St. Petersburg, and plays at the Vaudeville for ten days; it is, quite simply, the best Chekhov this reviewer has seen in thirty years of theatre-going.
The play takes as its subject the lives of three orphaned sisters – Olga, Masha and Irina – who, together with their brother Andrey, live with two old family retainers – Anfisa and Ferapont – in provincial Russia; the family having decamped from the sisters’ beloved Moscow eleven years previously. The action, such as it is, takes place over the course of several years, during which Andrey marries, Irina is courted by various different suitors and Masha has an intense extra-marital romance with one of the visiting soldiers, Vershinin. Ultimately, the soldiers leave, and the family is left adrift. The sisters realise that they will never leave and that their dream of returning to Moscow will never come to pass.
Three Sisters is, of course, a tale of lost hopes, but it is also a hymn to the continuous and eternal flow of life itself; Lev Dodin’s brilliant direction ensures that we never lose sight of this central Chekhovian ambiguity, and that the play, and the characters, steer clear of the mawkish self-indulgence with which they can sometimes be tarnished. Dodin steers with a steady hand, and, with the aid of pitch-perfect lighting and set design (credit here to Damir Ismagilov and Alexander Borovsky) the arc of the play is incredibly clear. The house, quite rightly, has a powerful presence here, and the simple device of the frontage moving ever further downstage as the action proceeds, cleverly underlines the family’s inability to escape.
Dodin likes to paint stage pictures. The production is visually stunning and the action carefully choreographed, with clear lines of symmetry throughout. This stylisation never seems heavy-handed however, continually off-set as it is by the warmth and truth of his talented cast. Hearing the play in its original language frees up the humanity of Chekhov’s characters. Language shapes sensibility, and the sound of spoken Russian lends a humour and warmth to these people that is impossible to capture in translation.
This is not to take away from the enormous skill of the cast. The three sisters themselves – Irina Tychinina as Olga, Ksenia Rappoport as Masha and Ekaterina Tarasova as Irina – are stupendous. Each is perfectly defined against the other, and each woman seems almost to physically transform over the course of the action. This is true too of Ekaterina Kleopina’s Natasha, thoroughly convincing in her journey from gauche intruder to self-satisfied matron. Oleg Ryazantzev charms as the hapless Baron, and Sergey Vlasov’s Kuligin is the perfect mix of provinicial pomposity and tender heartedness. Igor Chernevich’s Vershinin perhaps lacks a bit of Moscow glamour – necessary to attract Masha and work against his lugubrious take on life – but this is a niggle when taking on board the excellent work of the ensemble throughout.
Although the pace does slacken a bit after the interval, and the production loses a bit of drive, the two hours and forty five minutes seems like half that, which is quite something for a surtitled piece of work. All in all, it’s a consummate evening at the theatre. A perfect introduction to Chekhov if you don’t know his work, and an illumination of his genius if you do.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography courtesy Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg