The Witches

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

01/09/2006 - 23/09/2006

Production Details

By Roald Dahl
Adapted by David Wood
Directed by Caroline Claver
Choreographer: Douglas Kamo

What’s that smell? Always check for gloves, wigs and pinched feet!

Who are completely bald and always wear wigs, have curved fingernails hidden by gloves and are without toes but force their feet into narrow, fashionable shoes??

They are The Witches and they’ve come to Dunedin!

The Grand Witch’s plot is to eliminate all children by feeding them sweets and turning them into mice! The Boy and his grandmother must use all of their wits and cleverness to defeat The Witches’ evil scheme!


The Witches is based on the classic story by Roald Dahl and reveals the whole ghastly truth about these horrible creatures. It’s the story of what happens when one brave boy gets tangled up with a whole conference of witches at a seaside hotel.

Heather O’Carroll
Clarke Fulton
Ben Sparrow
Phoebe Smith
Danny Still
Douglas Kamo
Sara Georgie
Mary Sutherland
...and others

Theatre , Children’s ,

Fabulous, funny, physical and imaginative

Review by Terry MacTavish 07th Sep 2006

You won’t have to search far for your inner child to relish this production ~ he or she will have escaped down onto the stage to cavort wildly with revolting witches or scamper merrily with cute puppet mice. Adults, despite the bad press they get from the author, seem to be enjoying this frenetic stageplay of Dahl’s The Witches at least as much as the kids.

Roald Dahl believed that children should not be patronised (as Russian Yevtushenko wrote,"Tell them sorrow happens, hardship happens…the hell with it: who never knew the price of happiness will not be happy"); and perhaps because his stories are as dark and frightening as they are funny, they are enormously successful. Adaptor David Wood has been true to Dahl’s spirit, disdaining the false ending of the film version. Anyway, as wise old Grandma points out, though reality is grim, "horrible things can be exciting."

The storyline is well known from both classic book and film: the Witches, real witches who look like ordinary women but who are unnatural enough to detest children (incredible!), scheme to turn them all into mice. Orphaned ‘Boy’ discovers plot, and though turned to a mouse himself, bravely battles to outwit them, helped by his very special grandmother. 

The Fortune’s is a spectacular production with a large cast, storybook set, gorgeous costumes, and of course dramatic lighting, screen projections, smoke machines and technical wizardry to create the crucial magical effects. A fabulous range of theatre traditions is utilised, from Commedia clowning to Bunraku puppetry, and the theatre’s Education Co-ordinator has whipped up a very useful Education pack of extension activities linked directly to the new Arts Curriculum.

Caroline Claver was an inspired choice for director. Principal of her own ballet and drama school, she has an intuitive understanding of what entrances children, and a gift for extracting the best from young actors. The production is extraordinarily physical, and there is hardly a stage convention that is not exploited.  Imaginative staging delights the eye. I love the choreography and use of space employed in the witches’ transformation scene, which is truly a highlight. Elegant gowns are stripped to reveal fluttering rags and skull faces under scabby bald heads while the dancing is wild and thrilling with live music and frenzied movement as brave performers give it their all.

The actors are busily involved, most playing several parts, all with such high energy that no doubt there’ll be sprains and bruises aplenty by season-end. The witches, led by Heather O’Carroll, are naturally the crowd favourite, but the two young actors playing heroic Boy (Clarke Fulton) and his comical sidekick Bruno (Ben Sparrow) acquit themselves remarkably well and succeed in engaging audience sympathy. (Though it must be said, Bruno is just not fat enough!)

The flawless slapstick routine of Phoebe Smith and Danny Still as two Manuel-type chefs, bossed by a sleek Fawlty of a head waiter (tricksy choreographer Douglas Kamo), is dazzling. Another great comic partnership is that of Sara Georgie and Mark Neilson, in one of several incarnations as greedy Bruno’s ghastly family. Hysterical and intolerant ("I can’t have a mouse for a son!") these are archetypal Dahl parents. (Remember the monstrous ones in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?)

It is left to comforting, down-to-earth Grandmother who faces even mortality with serenity to demonstrate the true meaning of tolerance.  Heart-warmingly portrayed by a cosy Mary Sutherland she assures us that "it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as somebody loves you".  And what could be a happier ending than that?

So grab the sticky hand of your inner child, or better still borrow a more solid one, and scurry along for some pure theatrical magic.


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