The Worst Witch review – a magical baddie makes the production fly

Lyceum theatre, Sheffield
Dastardly Agatha Cackle’s attempts to make witching great again have the young audience almost levitating in their seats

An onstage banner proclaims that “Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches” is seeking applications “from diverse backgrounds” and is “rated fantastic by Ofmag”. First published in 1974, Jill Murphy’s fantastical boarding-school stories have gone on to sell more than 5m copies (and counting – the latest appeared just last year). This new stage adaptation by Emma Reeves features incidents from various of the eight titles, plus elements of the most recent TV series (on which Reeves was lead writer).

In spite of engaging performances from the spirited actor-musician cast, including Danielle Bird as the hopelessly clumsy new girl and “worst” witch Mildred, the first half is overlong and underwhelming (not helped by the use of mics and poor sound balance). The second half, though, is a blast, launched by the arrival of Miss Cackle’s evil twin, Agatha, red spangles flashing, who, in a belting number, announces her intention to take over the school, “rule by power”, “take back control” and “make witching great again”.

The story has found its mojo. From now on, Theresa Heskins’s direction conjures a potent mix of magic-seeming tricks, flying acrobatics and derring do, while Luke Potter’s score rollocks the plot along.

Everything centres around the glorious performance of one of British theatre’s very best baddies: Polly Lister (left, centre), doubling as sweet Miss Cackle and dastardly Agatha, sometimes simultaneously. At the matinee I attended, primary schoolchildren almost levitated from their seats in sheer, exuberant joy as they unequivocally rejected her wicked plans with their loud “Nooooooooooooooo!”

The Worst Witch is touring until 1 June

Contributor

Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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