Badjelly the Witch

The Wintergarden - Civic Theatre, Auckland

25/09/2006 - 08/10/2006

Production Details

By Spike Milligam
Adapted by Allannah O’Sullivan
Directed by Ben Crowder

a SILO THEATRE production

Knickers Knickers Knickers in a production where a giant eagle flies right above your head … a shark cruises by on a skateboard… trouser robbers run riot in the audience… oversized knives and forks dangle on high… puppets and miniatures steal the limelight and the SUN PROMISES TO SHINE ALL DAY!

No children’s story has captured the imagination of New Zealanders like Spike Milligan’s BADJELLY THE WITCH which is why theatre director Ben Crowder says directing it Silo Theatre was a “cult-like privilege”. Last year’s mid-winter production became the fastest selling event ever staged at Silo Theatre, playing to 98% of capacity over its run. It returns in a bigger, badder and better format to the Wintergarden at the Mighty Civic Theatre this coming September.

Crowder re-joins with some of the country’s most talented theatre-makers to create the weird and wonderful world of Tim and Rose, who on their journey to find Lucy the beloved cow meet; an apple tree that used to be a policeman, a grasshopper who barks like a dog, Mudwiggle the strongest worm in the world, tin lions, Dinglemouse, Jim the giant eagle and Badjelly herself.

The star-studded cast includes Fasitua Amosa, and Madeleine Sami, who was nominated for Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in the prestigious AIR NEW ZEALAND SCREEN AWARDS 2006. John Campbell has been confirmed as the voice of the narrator and The Right Honourable Helen Clark is currently auditioning for an encore performance as GOD.

Leading designers John Verryt and Elizabeth Whiting have created a modern take on Spike Milligan’s fantastical world – with the aim to enthral adults and children alike with a pop-up storybook landscape that is full of constant surprises.

BADJELLY THE WITCH was originally written by the legendary Spike Milligan for his own children in 1973 and since then it has enjoyed a phenomenal following in New Zealand. The classic tale of good overcoming evil has been reprinted in New Zealand more than any other country; it has been regularly played on radio and is the most licensed play in the country.

(100 Cousins; Sione's Wedding) 
(Take Me Out; The Insiders Guide to Happiness)

Set Design                   John Verryt
Costume Designer      Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Design          Paul Nicoll
Sound Design &
Composition               Jason Smith and Edmund McWilliams

Theatre , Children’s , Family ,

1hr, no interval

Outstanding show but poor acoustics

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe with input from Ella Ward-Dagg (nearly 3) 26th Sep 2006

Oh what fun to be had by all, with cardboard, sticks and a cast that just won’t quit when it comes to throwing themselves with youthful abandon into Spike Milligan’s classic tale.

Director Ben Crowder steers a production that pays homage on all levels, to Milligan’s unique world of wit, silly carry-on, and kid’s logic. As a result, it is hugely appealing to adults and children alike.

As Silo Theatre continues to broaden their horizons, they have chosen to bring back this sell out production from 2005, to the wonderful wide-open space beneath The Mighty Civic Theatre – The Winter Garden. Set Designer John Verryt has done well, transforming her glamorous façade into a fun filled pit for play.

The flavour of the sketched set is not unlike the original drawings in the book I remember so well, with hand painted trees and mountain ranges stretching across the stage. With his audience in mind, Verryt logically puts the two key locations for the epic quest about to unfold, at either end of the space. "Look mummy, someone’s house, with a window and a door. And look over there, a cave," observes Ella.

Verryt’s team (2 Construct, Renee Te Pairi, Shelley Watson) have created magic and mayhem through the many props, puppets and gadgets (highlights for Ella: Fluffybum The Cat and Lucy The Cow, and for me, Sam the Eagle, the many ill fated chickens and the little splash).

Costumes (Designer Elizabeth Whiting, Construction The Costume Shop and Wardrobe Management Victoria Ingram) are an eye catching eccentric mix, including primary colours for the young (very now, according to the Herald’s commentary on NZ Fashion week), a celebration of stripes for the Trouser Robbers and a Stevie Nicks inspired ensemble for Badjelly.

The show is jam-packed with pantomime tricks, mischief and revelry, performed by an outstanding, hard working cast and crew.

Highlights include: the manic trouser robbers (Margaret-Mary Hollins and Nikki Bennett), Binklebonk hosting his tiny tea party (Brett O’Gorman), the storm, which honours Spike’s famous fork, knife and spoon lightening, Fasitua Amosa’s lovable sun (I felt certain he would break into Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds before he set), the extraordinary strokes of the unsinkable Mudwiggle (Hollins), the miserable Apple Tree routine and his horizontal exit (O’Gorman); and Badjelly’s entrance, followed by her "I’m a harmless old lady with warm sack" guise (Madeleine Sami).

Performance wise, for me, Dinglemouse steals the show. Bennett’s comic timing, characterisation and puppetry, are as astute as they are entertaining. Her "A-ra-da-da-da-dah-da!" song and dance routine on the mountain is a treat, as is her hero run to fetch Sam The Eagle, set to a brilliant Starsky and Hutch like composition (Sound Design and Composition by Jason Smith and Edmund McWilliams).

Scott Cotter and Liesha Ward-Knox do a fine job in the central roles of Tim and Rose. Both actors are restrained, capturing the blunt sensibilities and honesty of kids’ logic, very well.

Unfortunately, as with all in the cast, a simple technical issue compromised their performances. Much of the time, they could not be heard. Even though some in the cast pitched their performance for a more intimate space, and therefore lacked the diction and projection this venue demanded, the fault is not entirely with the performers.

I was in the centre of row D, yet struggled to hear even the most seasoned actors, whom I know to have good stage voices. The venue is large and fully carpeted, the stage is spread wide, the target audience by virtue of their age will be a competing element, plus there are many amplified sound effects in the mix. Either the cast need to lift their vocal energy significantly, or the lack of vocal amplification needs to be urgently addressed. Otherwise, audiences will continue to grow restless or creep forward from the back seats during the show, as they did on opening night.

Sound issues seemed to cause other unfortunate side effects, with cues, pace and timing. Badjelly’s famous "Stinky-poo / knickers" meltdown, was entirely lost in laughter and applause. Also, performances that shone in The Silo come across as a tad under whelming in the larger space. A 30-minute delay at the top of the evening, due to a ticketing issue, further hampered opening night. Perhaps that was a contributing factor.

On the occasions when voices were amplified, such as the exciting chase sequence between Sam The Eagle and Badjelly, the overall dynamic lifted to where it should’ve been all night.

I would highly recommend kids of all ages take their parents to this production. I’m sure these technical issues would have been addressed, but I’d book early, and get as close to the front as you can, just to be on the safe side.

Then again, if your kids are young enough not to need all the words to get the gist, book an elevated seat in the middle: Ella was wide-eyed, engrossed, from start to finish. Ella’s summary: "I like the cow. I don’t like the witch." My summary: A must-see these school holidays.


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