York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre’s performance of The Witches was a nostalgic mix of comedy, horror and pantomime tropes.
Those who grew up with Roald Dahl’s classic tale of terror, or indeed the 1990 film adaptation, would have felt right at home with this production. Incidentally, so would audiences of Sherlock Holmes, as the action plays out among the same Gothic pillared halls and life-size portrait frames. There were the usual pantomime tricks in the form of witches mingling with the audience before and during the show, as well as audience assistance with Boy’s great mouse circus.
York Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre cast delivered David Wood’s 1992 script with perfectly chilling ensemble work, drawing out the well-loved story’s dark humour and nightmare fodder alike. There are stand-out performances from a tender Grandmother (Rebekah Burland) with a storytelling knack ripe for audiobooks, a vivacious and earnest Boy (Maddie Drury) who will win and break your heart, a Grand High Witch (Molly Levitt) to rival Anjelica Huston – not to mention her delightfully peevish right-hand witch Edwina (Edward Hooper) – and the haughty but somehow likeable Jenkinses (Dominic Sorrell, Charlotte Wood and Stan Gaskell).
The witches’ assembly and The Plan reveal are particularly terrifying; the stage amok with chasing, chanting, cackling, scratching monsters in hunt mode.
Gem Greaves’ design arranges a deliciously hideous menagerie of witches in garish 1980s jackets, tights and heels, while Becky May’s mouse puppets swim seamlessly through the action like any other cast member. Alexandra Stafford’s lighting also brings to life some poignant moments in startlingly creative ways.
In all, The Witches was a spell-binding display of creativity, style and feeling.