Witch

Wed 5th – Sat 22nd August 2015

reviews

Abigail Smith

at 09:20 on 9th Aug 2015

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A musical about witches did not sound very promising. I thought that we had pretty much covered that topic with Wicked, and so took my seat with some trepidation. However, my fears were proved unnecessary almost instantly by a show that was, for want of a more original joke, spellbinding.

With a talented three-man band setting the pace, the show’s music (directed by Tom Slade, Chris Poon and Jack Dudley) was almost flawless throughout. From an excellently bawdy drinking song, to the haunting Latin spells, with harmonies drifting from behind curtains, every song was just the right length and rarely turned to corny conventions. This excellent score was only made better by the cast, who were all highly talented vocalists. Their ensemble singing was very strong, and filled the space with perfectly tuned harmonies. Special mention must go to Ruth (Danielle Marsh), whose brief solo was charming, and Leah (Lucy Cooper), who managed to make some pretty creepy spells sound like lullabies. The standouts were undoubtedly the trio of maids (Louise Kenny, Jess Abrahams, Emma Jelly), whose voices blended together to form a haunting set of songs which stood out far above the rest.

The choreography was also mesmerising: it was evident how much time had gone into every dance, mob scene, and sequence, whether it was dancing round a pub or the really disturbing drowning scene. One brilliant scene saw Annabelle (Ellie Fitz-Gerald) in a nightmarish world, the rest of the cast swarming around her in (absolutely terrifying) waxen masks. It was perfectly orchestrated and amazing to watch. As she morphed into a possessed child, nothing could be creepier than her line: “Do you want to fuck me, Daddy?” followed by piercing screams.

The acting was not as consistent music, and the ‘modern day’ scenes felt especially stilted at points. However, Beckie Barkham’s performance as Agnes was absolutely fantastic; she was captivating right from the early ensemble scenes, and only got better as she turned into a terrifyingly sweet, Umbridge style nightmare. Also well acted were the ‘puppet’ corpses; Louise Kenny, a dead-ringer for the girl from The Ring, was especially scary.

The only disappointment came at the show’s close: I just didn’t get the need to introduce a love story between two characters who we had barely seen. Though Rob Williams did his best with the part of Cal, the character really grated, and I left the theatre completely confused about who was alive and who was dead. The lovers' duet was the only song I felt the musical could have done without - although beautifully performed, it felt far too sickly at the end of such a dark musical, though the reappearance of the trio of maids seemed to, as Leah said, “readjust the balance”. All in all, I can’t recommend this show highly enough — if you’re wondering Witch show to see, the answer is pretty obvious.

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Beckie Rutherford

at 09:55 on 9th Aug 2015

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At a glance, a musical take on a paranoid witch craze might seem a bit odd, but Witch proved to be sharp, compelling and a professional triumph for the students of Music Theatre Warwick. The life of modern-day witch, Leah (Lucy Cooper) is haunted by memories that gradually reveal the grisly persecution of her grandmother, Abigail (Jess Abrahams). Picture the charm of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch alongside the tantalising creepiness of a nineties horror film and you’re along the right lines.

This production takes a little while to warm up, and the initial interaction between Leah and her cautious friend, Cal (Rob Williams) is not likely to blow you away. However, the first ensemble number has a galvanising effect and neatly introduces the characters who later form the fearful band of witch-hunters in Abigail’s hamlet.

The heartfelt duet between Esther (a young woman who believes witchcraft to be the cause of her recent miscarriage) and motherly figure Ruth is captivating. Both actresses (Kitty Murdoch and Danielle Marsh) deserve mention for delivering a strong vocal performance.

The scene depicting the possession of young girl, Annabelle (Ellie Fitz-Gerald) is surprisingly disturbing and signals the marked shift away from archetypal village antics towards more gripping supernatural drama. The thrill factor is amplified from then on, and the audience sit on edge, eager for the next piece of the puzzle.

The constant presence of Leah and Cal watching from the wings as Abigail’s life unfolds is an effective reminder of their observing role, and their intermittent discussion of what they are witnessing fuels the audience’s desire for plot resolution.

The show is visually striking and combines scenes of intense and fast-paced energy with unsettling staccato movement. However, it is the musical numbers which are unquestionably its strongest attribute. The trio of Musical Directors – Tom Slade, Chris Poon and Jack Dudley – have done an excellent job in composing pieces that are fresh, imaginative and above all, thoroughly entertaining. However, the decision to place the musicians upstage in full view of the audience is questionable as several times they looked intrusive and out of place.

This production’s guarantee to 'shock and appal in equal measure' does not disappoint. Witch is unmissable if you’re looking for a thrill this summer.

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