Bewitched by Dahl’s dark magic

A scene from The Witches
A scene from The Witches

The Witches by Roald Dahl adapted by David Wood and performed by the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre in the Minerva Studio.

You may think that witches have black pointed hats, fly around on broomsticks, and are accompanied everywhere by a ebony-coloured cat.

When Roald Dahl delivered his own interpretation in 1983 he took an altogether more sinister view.

He gave them a contemporary make-over - modern clothes and with all the apparent traits of an ordinary human mortal.

But their agenda was darker than ever: to get rid of every child on the planet.

He knew that this combination of ruthless exterminator lurking in everyday apparel would be more scary than anything else to a young reader.

So it proved to be.

The latest adaptation of his brutal onslaught on the junior population may seem an odd choice for the Christmas show at Chichester performed by children themselves.

However, the acclaimed youth theatre has never been afraid to take risks - and this production is as brave as it is bold.

No doubt there were one or two younger members of the audience feeling a little uneasy in their seats as the plot unfolded.

A boy is orphaned, taken back to England by his Norwegian grandmother, where he stumbles into a witches’ conference and uncovers their dastardly plan.

Can he act quickly enough to save the whole junior human race?

The 1990 film adaptation changed the ending to a sugary Hollywood one - but this version remains true to Dahl’s intent.

Chichester doesn’t do pantomime - and, with the brilliant exception of a cameo performance by two chefs, there was little to be found in this performance.

None the less, Chichester’s staging is every bit as clever and sophisticated as audiences would expect.

The use of puppets to show the children turned to mice is a masterstroke.

No detail is left unattended.

But the brilliance of this performance lies with the quality of the direction and the cast.

Two teams are performing The Witches. I cannot comment on the ‘Blues’ team as I have not seen them, but the ‘Reds’ who entertained us were breathtakingly good.

Finn Elliot’s beautifully understated performance as the Boy was the highlight.

He commanded the Minerva stage in a style that was wholly in character. He truly is a star of the future.

If you want some traditional Christmas panto banter this year, The Witches aren’t for you.

This is quality drama delivered to the highest standards by a youth theatre of which we can all be justly proud.