Tag Archives: Simon Daw

Girl Powers


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 24th April, 2019


Long before Harry Potter emerged from his cupboard and went off to Hogwarts, Mildred Hubble attended Miss Cackle’s witching academy in a series of books by Jill Murphy.  The books were adapted for television decades ago, and now they come to the stage in this brand-new version by Emma Reeves.  Here we meet Mildred, her classmates and members of staff as they stage a play about Mildred’s arrival at the academy.  The play-within-a-play format permits the cast to explore theatricality to represent the magic spells and uncanny events.  Rather than high-tech special effects, the show depends on the creativity of the director and the physicality of the actors to pull off magical moments, like invisibility, a flying broomstick display, and a host of other spells. Dramaturgy rather than thaumaturgy.

When the director is the hugely inventive Theresa Heskins you know you’re in safe hands and there will be surprises in store.  Heskins includes some of her hallmarks (if you’ve seen any of her productions at the New Vic, you’ll recognise the ‘flying’ papers) to bring the story to wonderful life.  The show works on (at least) two levels, with the adventure conjured up before our very eyes, and also the joy-bringing display of theatrical invention.  Reeve’s bright script updates Murphy’s novels and I revel in the sideswipes at a certain boy wizard and his school (“We don’t have an evil house; that would be silly”) Honestly, the show is an unadulterated pleasure.

Leading the company as clumsy Mildred is Danielle Bird, instantly appealing, a heroine with whom we can identify, as she attends witching school by mistake and struggles to fit in.  She is supported by Rebecca Killick as bff Maud and hindered by the machinations of snobby bully Ethel (a deliciously hateful Rosie Abraham).  Most amusing though – in fact, downright hilarious – is Consuela Rolle as disruptive newcomer Enid, bringing urban realness to the partay, witches.

Rachel Heaton gives a masterclass in simmering contempt as the hard-faced Miss Hardbroom – making it all the more exquisite when she experiences the effects of a hilarity potion.  Molly-Grace Cutler is great fun as chanting teacher Miss Bat, also playing piano, guitar and cello for the show’s musical numbers, alongside Meg Forgan’s bass-playing Fenella and Megan Leigh Mason’s broomstick teacher/guitarist-percussionist… The band stays onstage throughout, and Luke Potter’s original score is rich with catchy tunes – the choral singing is beautiful, and solo numbers are belted out with expression, energy and humour, not least by the mighty Polly Lister, doubling as Miss Cackle and her evil twin, sometimes appearing as both characters at once.  Lister gives a towering performance, larger-than-life, exuding menace and eliciting mirth.  It’s a marvel to behold.

Simon Daw’s skeletal set, delineating the tottering towers of the academy, provides the perfect framework for the story.  We see the outline and imagine the building, just as we see a stylised action and picture the event being depicted.  Our imaginations and our intellects are engaged simultaneously, but most of all, we’re having a right good laugh.


Worst Witch98 - credit Manuel Harlan

Charming! Danielle Bird and Rachel Heaton



Life of Spy


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 9th October, 2013


Based on a story by Joseph Conrad, this adaptation by Matthew Hurt and Theatre O, is a 90-minute melange of theatrical conventions, some of which work better than others.  In a rather gothic, Victorian/Edwardian setting by designer Simon Daw, the story unfolds of Adolf Verloc (George Potts) an agent who has infiltrated an anarchist gang.  He is tasked with the job of bombing the Greenwich Observatory in order to foster a climate of fear within the public – it all sounds starkly relevant to today’s world of terrorist scaremongering and TV’s Homeland!  It all goes horrifically wrong and the fall-out from an accidental explosion leads to mourning and murder.

Potts is rather engaging as Verloc, with a nice line in Music Hall singing.  The show could do with more of this.  Later on we get a snatch of Blue Moon to cover a scene transition – the numbers provide uplifting contrast to the dark subject matter with its rich vein of dark humour.

There are movement sequences of heightened and repeated actions that express what the dialogue does not.  There are animated projections like chalk drawings of doors and windows, reminding us of the story-ness of the, um, story.  These devices add to the mood and feel of the piece.  Other tricks mar the general effect.  There is an ill-advised scene in which half a dozen volunteers are recruited from the audience to sit in at a meeting, eat biscuits, nod their heads and repeat lines, in a Generation Game kind of manner.  It takes us out of the sinister quality of the material – it is already strongly implied that we, the audience, should not be so complacent and sit there accepting everything.  The production is a call to direct action, to get up and do something to stop the rich fatcats from taking everything… but this message peters out.  We get caught up in the beauty of the production and the effectiveness of technique rather than stirred to bring an end to social injustice.

Leander Deeny is larger-than-life as Vladimir, setting Verloc his task in a funny absurdist scene.  Helena Lymbery provides two contrasting characterisations as the Mother and an anarchist Professor, but Carolina Valdes stands out as Winnie.  Her moments of stillness are as expressive as her choreographed movements.

A hodgepodge of conventions, The Secret Agent looks good and is not without its shocks and surprises, but its bag of tricks is inconsistent in its effectiveness.  You leave the theatre, reflecting on moments of theatricality rather than anything the content might have to say.

I would have liked a bit more Music Hall too.