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St Albans' Company of Ten is staging Roald Dahl’s The Witches for its Christmas show, writes Rosy Moorhead
News is just coming in that nasty, smelly, ugly old witches have been seen riding their broomsticks over St Albans. They are rumoured to be plotting to poison every chocolate and sweetie in the land in order to turn all of the children in England into mice, because they are horrible and they hate children.
They look like ordinary women but there are telltale signs: they are bald, so they have to wear wigs; they have no fingernails and so have to wear gloves at all times; and they don’t have any toes and have blue spit. Be on your guard and avoid all sweets – which could be difficult as it’s Christmas.
Katherine Barry is the director of The Company of Ten’s Christmas children’s production of Roald Dahl’s much-loved classic, The Witches, which opens at the Abbey Theatre this week.
“It’s been such a fun experience for everyone,“ she says. “Though the story is quite a dark tale, this David Wood adaptation that we’re doing has a lot of humorous moments, so we’re emphasising those so as not to scare the children too much!
“It’s a Roald Dahl classic about good triumphing over evil, it’s got all the ingredients for good family fun. This adaptation is very faithful to the book. In the 1990 film version, the boy is changed back into a little boy at the end but that’s not what Dahl wrote.“
The Company of Ten produces a classic children’s story every year at Christmas, and this year’s story sees Boy and his grandmother stumble across the annual general meeting of all the witches in England while they’re on holiday in Bournemouth, at which they are discussing their diabolical plan to turn all the children of England into mice. Boy is caught and turned into a mouse himself and, with the help of his grandmother and fellow mouse-boy Bruno, he races to foil the witches’ evil plans.
“I’ve got two teams of three boys,“ continues Katherine, from St Albans, who has been a member of the group for ten years, “and one team is in each performance. It’s been a joy to work with them, they just soak it all up. A couple of them came to the second audition knowing all their lines – they put the adults to shame!“
The cast is made up of children from in and around St Albans, most of whom go to a drama class and have experience of being on the stage, and adults playing the witches.
“Most of the witches are women but the Grand High Witch is played by a man,“ says Katherine, who runs the Stagecoach performing arts school in Watford, “and then we’ve got Grandma. She’s the central character apart from the boys and is played by Sue Parker, she’s got a great relationship with the boys. There’s a lovely scene when the boys have been turned into mice, and we’re using puppets with the boys’ voices.
“A couple of the adult cast are doubling up as puppeteers, which has been quite challenging – we’ve been busy cutting holes in tables for them to stick their hands up through! The person under the table can’t see what’s going on, of course, and they’ve had to be able to keep the puppet animated even when they weren’t talking.
“But we’ve got a great technical team doing our set and props, all with great ideas. It’s really been a team effort and I’m very pleased with the way it’s shaped up due to the team spirit.“
- The Witches is at Abbey Theatre, Westminster Lodge, Holywell Hill, St Albans on December 21 and 28 at 7.30pm and on December 22, 23, 27, 29 and 30 at 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Details: 01727 857861, www.abbeytheatre.org.uk