The Witches of Eastwick

Book and lyrics by John Dempsey, music by Dana P. Rowe, based on the novel by John Updike, and the Warner Brothers Motion Picture
New Victoria Theatre, Woking and touring

Production photo

I was not familiar with The Witches of Eastwick. Despite the exceptional cast in the movie (headed by Jack Nicholson and also starring Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer) the snippet which I saw on television I thought was utter rubbish and I turned it off. That‘s something you can do with TV – not a lot of people know that!

However many of the recent screen to stage adaptations have improved the original beyond all recognition, so I thought I’d try it again.

The theatre was packed – such is the drawing power of Marti Pellow, the lead singer of Wet, Wet, Wet, once again trying his hand at the acting side of the profession, and what a revelation --- this boy can act and act well. I am told that his accent is normally broad Glaswegian, but the only trace of his Scottish roots was a jubilant two second Highland Fling at about the fourth curtain call.

The scene is set in Eastwick – a small, neat and well behaved New England town in the nineteen fifties, and a young girl (Victoria Hay) gives us the measure of the place from the beginning with "Eastwick Knows" and it certainly does, with everyone knowing everything about everyone, ruled by an imposing Felicia Gabriel – Rachel Izen in a very impressive overbearing performance, with particular mention of her song "Evil" dramatically, comically and very beautifully delivered.

It troubles Felicia that there are three women who will not conform to the happily married couples state, Alexandra, Sukie and Jane (Ria Jones, Rebecca Thornhill and Poppy Tierney) and they get together, as girls do, to have a little drink and talk of their perfect dream man.

It is when they weave a pattern in the air with their Martini glasses that, with a thunderclap and red flashing lights, Darryl Van Horne (in the shape of Marti Pelow) dashes down the aisle and leaps on stage --- to the accompaniment of excited screams from his many fans in the audience. There will be a few girls trying the Martini glass trick tonight.

"A horny little devil", he gives to each woman what she wants, and what they want is sensual sex and they certainly get it - his hands (and other parts) were all over them and they are transformed – even more so when he releases their powers of witchcraft. The one false note in the production was the three floating in the air above him, and seemingly wondering what to do up there while he sang "Dance with the Devil".

The music is unmemorable – you'd be hard pressed to find anyone humming it on the way out – but it goes with a melodious enjoyable swing, lyrics are very relevant to the story, and it is beautifully sung and expertly performed by the eleven piece orchestra. The high spot was the comedy song and dance number "Dirty Laundry" with the whole cast led by Felicia, and some exhilarating choreography (Geoffrey Garratt) and the whole show is tightly controlled by director Nikolai Foster.

Sound, lighting and special effects are superbly dramatic (Colin Pink and Guy Hoare), and costumes are either colourful fifties style and respectable – or very red and very naughty.

It was inspired casting to place Pelow in the role of predatory sexual being, which seems to fit him like a glove. Whether this is indicative of his character I have no idea – but I’ll be trying the Martini glass ritual tonight.

Touring to High Wycombe, Ipswich, Southampton, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Truro, Eastbourne, Sunderland, Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff and Glasgow

This production was reviewed by David Chadderton in Manchester, by Philip Seager in Sheffield and by Peter Lathan in Sunderland

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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