The Witches by Roald Dahl is a classic children's story, popularised by the 1990 film, this is a tale of
disguised threats, dire consequences and of course evil witches.
Union Theatre, a Solihull based amateur dramatics society with director Victoria Ellery-Jones, has
worked hard across the past 8 weeks - a limited time frame even by professional standards - to
present this well-known play to appreciative audiences over the past week.
I had the delight to see the performance on Friday 8 November and was thoroughly whisked away
by the commitment, dedication and talent present on stage. The group had done an excellent job of
transforming the beautiful space of St James the Great Church into a minimalist stage - allowing the
space and setting to change with the rapid pace of the narrative - with the help of lighting and sound
we are transported from car, to tree, to bustling hotel and rocky ferry.
The play opened with a retelling of the life growing up of the chief character, three separate actors
in height order, sporting red garments enacted the happy, idyllic childhood of the generically named
Boy, before the play establishes and we soon learn that his caring parents are killed in a tragic
Boy is played by James Williams with a vibrancy and life that contrasts directly with the dark
undertones of the play entire. Throughout this performance, he was engaged, focused and
disciplined in his approach - a notable performance for a young actor and one that belies a promising
career if he sticks with it.
Supporting James, was his caring ex-pat Grandmother who lives in Norway but travels with Boy to
Britain for a holiday - Julie Moore carried the part of Nanna with a gentleness and sometime severity
befitting the role as she guides and instructs her young grandchild through the peril of spotting,
avoiding and dealing with witches.
The play progresses at a swift pace, and before we know it we stand at the entrance to the Hotel
Magnificent, treated fleetingly to an insight into the life of the second child woven into the narrative.
Bruno, well played by Matthew Parker, is a spoilt rotten nightmare child - filled with bluster and
greed Matthew's character oozes those contemptible traits that makes the Witches actions seem almost reasonable - if not preferable!
Before long we are sitting in the conference room as the Grand High Witch herself, played in drag
with a thick German accent excellently by Mark Firmstone, reveals herself and all the other Witches.
A nod should be given to the individuals responsible for the make-up and special effects of this
show, as itchy wigs are removed revealing horrendously scabbed bald heads.
These cackling harpies shriek and squawk their pleasure at the GHWs plan to get rid of all the
children in England - unknowingly revealing their plots to the hidden out of sight Boy.
The transformation of children to mice is achieved through the use of two larger-than-life mice
puppets who crawl and scutter across the stage.
With a cast of 23, this was a combined effort, giving the play life and vibrancy; an aspect of Amateur
Theatre that so often lacks in professional performances - with multi-roling and constantly changing
sets, props and costumes - the supporting actors not mentioned should hold their heads high for a job supremely well done. Special mention should be made of Jemma Reid who played a litany of
minor characters yet still managed to capture the audience’s attention at every turn - a performance
that solidifies the idea that there is no such thing as a small part!
If you, or someone you know, wants to join in and tread the boards, I would highly recommend
getting involved by visiting Union Theatre’s website for their next set of auditions.
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