dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Does children's show have a touch of magic?
Jill Murphy's books about a schoolgirl in a witches' academy have been huge best-sellers for decades and now they are brought to the stage in this touring production currently at Birmingham Hippodrome.
Adapted by Emma Reeves, who also adapted the books for television, the show takes us inside Miss Cackle's Academy for training young girls as witches. Here we meet Mildred, who accidentally went to the wrong school and struggles to fit in – not just in terms of making friends but also in casting spells. But when the worst witch decides to leave the school she unleashes an adventure she could never have imagined.
The adaptation sees the students initially talking to the audience, telling us they are going to put on a play about their school before we embark upon the show within a show.
Directed by Theresa Heskins, the story is carried along with song, dancing and humour although at times it feels over-busy with too much happening on stage and the narrative getting lost in the middle. In the second half when the head teacher's evil twin Agatha arrives, the story becomes even more confused so that at some points it's just plain chaotic.
That's not to say it's not entertaining and there are some lovely performances from cast members. The chance to play both twins Agatha and Miss Cackle at the same time gives Polly Lister one of those moments on stage all actors long for as she swings back and forth to be one character on her left side and another on her right. As she argues with herself, it brings a touch of real magic to the show.
Rachel Heaton is the super strict teacher Miss Hardbroom but in the stage production she's actually quite likeable – and certainly has her heart in the right place.
Danielle Bird as Mildred is a firm favourite with the audience as she initially bumbles her way through magic classes but gradually makes friends and comes out fighting for the cause. In the opposite corner is the snooty and spiteful Ethel – a character embraced by Rosie Abraham who ensures she is a thoroughly nasty girl and yet one we can't help but like.
Simon Daw's set gives ample space for all of the action and has an atmospheric, spooky house on the hill background. We see its adaptability when the scenery begins to fall apart as the school comes under threat.
There's a touch of pantomime to the show with plenty of opportunities for audience participation. Children are asked to help the young witches defeat Agatha by helping to sing and they are also quizzed over Mildred's whereabouts when the evil Agatha is looking to destroy her.
While it's all good fun there are moments when The Worse Witch simply runs away with itself. Paring down some of the drama and over-acting may have helped it hold together more thoroughly. Throwing everything into the cauldron at once makes for a very mixed brew.