Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Witches of Eastwick

Book and lyrics by John Dempsey; music by Dana P Rowe; based on the novel by John Updike
Sunderland Empire
(2009)

The Witches of Eastwick

Alright, I confess it: I was not looking forward to seeing The Witches of Eastwick. In fact, I wasn't supposed to be going: another of our reviewers was down to cover it but unfortunately became ill the day before and was no better on the day of the show, so it fell to me. I had seen the film and been impressed by the performances but romantic comedy is not my bag, so I have to admit it left me somewhat cool, if not exactly cold.

So, not the best frame of mind in which to approach reviewing a production! But, I thought, I'm a pro: I can set aside my prejudices. In the event I didn't need to - the show swept them aside.

The musical plays up the darker side of Updike's novel and the satire which characterises so much of his work is much more evident here than in the film. The sexuality, too, is much more explicit: under Van Horne's guidance, for example, Jane's cello playing becomes orgasmic.

The musical's original cast of principals - Maria Friedman, Joanna Riding, Lucy Arnaz and Ian McShane - is a hard act to follow but Ria Jones (Alex), Rebecca Thornhill (Sukie) and Poppy Tierney (Jane) really make the parts their own. I was less convinced by Marti Pellow. As one would expect, he sings well and his body language and movement convey the manic sexuality of Darryl Van Horne (sometimes too much so, so that his performance verged on caricature) but his diction was poor, so that a good half of what he said was lost.

The rest of the cast gave superb support. Particularly impressive were Victoria Hay as the young girl who acts as a kind of punctuation mark between the scenes and Rachel Izen as the fearsome Felicia Gabriel who virtually runs the town of Eastwick.

The design is interesting. The people of Eastwick - even the men - are all dressed in bright colours, whereas the background (except the hand plates on the door of Van Horne's home which look rmearkably like an erect phallus) and, initially at any rate, the dress of the three "witches" are monochromatic and, fittingly, Van Horne is in black, relieved only by a bright red handkerchief, the very red in which the three women dress when they come into their full powers under his influence.

The audience loved it and I admit that I came away a convert. But Mr Pellow, let's have some clarity of speech!

This production was reviewed by Sheila Connor in Woking, by Philip Seager in Sheffield and by David Chadderton in Manchester

Reviewer: Peter Lathan