REVIEW: The Worst Witch, Orchard Theatre, Dartford

A family friendly musical about a school for witches, based on a best-selling series of children’s books? With an all-female cast? Yes please.

Mummy and Mrs Mummy are rather partial to musicals about witches. Mrs Mummy is also quite the Harry Potter fan. Mummy does not by any means dislike Harry Potter (although the Hogwarts ride at Universal Islands of Adventure makes her horribly queasy) but always thought that it was something of a rip-off of The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. This weekend also happened to be the 15th anniversary of a much younger Mummy and Mrs Mummy declaring their love to each other over MSN messenger and then bunking off maths lessons like the naughty schoolgirls that they definitely were not. (We were far more Ethel Hallow than Enid Nightshade.) So The Worst Witch Live was a no-brainer.

The show (adapted by Emma Reeves) broadly follows the storyline of the first novel in the Worst Witch series, but told through the medium of a school play directed by Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird). This show within a show format allows for some natural breaking the fourth wall and audience interaction that falls on just the right side of panto. Mummy initially felt that it was a genuinely clever excuse for incorporating the most basic of props and effects that deliberately bordered on the naff. She was consequently mildly perplexed during the interval when she read in the programme that the show had a Magic Consultant. Mummy’s confusion was alleviated in the second act when the action broke out of the show within a show format and into the real world of Miss Cackle’s Academy. Not only did the plot take a darker turn at this stage, but the effects became truly impressive. Both Mummy and Mrs Mummy remarked afterwards that it felt reminiscent of the Cursed Child. But (controversial opinion coming up…..) superior by virtue of being a musical. (Mummy should point out at this stage that this opinion is entirely her own and that she has not consulted Mrs Mummy on this particular point.) Perhaps unsurprising for a show set in a school, there were also some hints of Matilda, particularly in Polly Lister’s portrayal of the aptly named Agatha!

In the spirit of the Cursed Child, Mummy solemnly swears to keep the secrets of The Worst Witch. Suffice to say that it was a thoroughly entertaining re-imagining of a classic school story, peppered with cultural and political references (including a few nods to everyone’s favourite boy Wizard) and the most effective use of actor-musicians Mummy has ever witnessed. Mummy would also like to applaud Polly Lister for her dizzying performance of two polar-opposite characters (sometimes simultaneously) and whoever came up with the idea for using a static trapeze as a broomstick. Likewise, kudos to Danielle Bird and Rebecca Killick (Maud Moonshine) for pulling off some impressive aerial moves without splattering onto the stage in front of an audience of small children.

On which note, it was lovely to see so many highly engaged children, many of them dressed in the uniform of Miss Cackle’s Academy and brandishing cuddly cats. Mummy suspects many of these costumes will have a second outing later in the week for World Book Day. We refuse to let the munchkins dress as characters from books they haven’t read, but Mrs Mummy was predictably swayed by marketing and purchased a special edition of the novel when she popped out to get a programme. So maybe we will have to conjure up some spellbinding school uniform and cat sock puppets….

It irks Mummy (who felt a natural affinity with Rachel Heaton’s stern Miss Hardbroom) somewhat to say that she is struggling to find anything to dislike about this show at all. In fact, Mummy might go as far as to say that it was spellbinding. Hopefully it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that The Worst Witch ends (much like that other well known musical about witches) with a message of friendship. And this review ends with a well-deserved rating of raindrops, whiskers, kettles, mittens and brown-paper packages (aka five out of five of my favourite things.)