Friday, 4 July 2014

“That was pretty good for a play”; Roald Dahl’s THE WITCHES on stage

Above is a quote from one young audience member, even before he’d exited the Beckett Theatre at the Malthouse. I don’t know what other experience he’d had with plays; ‘pretty good’ might mean that he wasn’t really impressed with other stage shows he’s seen. Or maybe he just didn’t know what to expect from a one-man version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

The theatre was basically full, mostly of parents and their children – some of whom were delighted by their interaction with actor Guy Edmonds before the show even began. The boy sitting next to me – who would later become part of the play, as a Witch – was talking to his mother about what he was expecting. Or, rather, they were discussing how they thought Edmonds might pull off different parts of the story.

“How is he going to become the witch, do you think?” his mother asked.

“Masks, probably.” He was quite confident.

“What about the mice? How do you think he’ll do the mice?”

The boy thought for a while and figured out that Edmonds might just crawl around on the floor. The answer to how he “does” the mice is what makes the show such fun – and I won’t give it away here, but he uses three different techniques to bring the mice to life, each more thrilling than the last.


For a show that runs for fifty minutes, it’s full of invention that many plays of twice the length can lack. The script and direction are tight. Edmonds performance is so full of energy – as you might expect, but also clever and layered. The twist and turns of his body and voice as the various characters act and interact was precise but also felt spontaneous. There was so much life in a show that could feel like just a technical accomplishment in lesser hands.

I don’t know what children expect when they go to the theatre. I see so much theatre, I come in with baggage – it’s been so long since I’ve read The Witches or seen the film that I really wish I’d remembered it better. But the conversations I overheard before and those I heard after meant that whatever these kids wanted, they got something they really enjoyed.

I expected to have fun. I didn’t expect to be grinning from ear-to-ear from beginning to end.

Australian children’s theatre is some of the best in the world. This production of The Witches continues that tradition. Though the show has already played Sydney and closes in Melbourne this weekend, I expect a tour will come soon enough. Because there are a lot more children across Australia to be delighted by this show.


It is pretty good for a play, after all.

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