REVIEW: ‘The Worst Witch’, Birmingham Hippodrome

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‘The Worst Witch‘, Birmingham Hippodrome

  Mildred Hubble is an ordinary girl. That is, until she accidentally finds herself at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Now in her final year, Mildred and her friends embark on their most important adventure yet, one that will save, not just the Academy, but the whole world.

  Based on a series of children’s books, written by Jill Murphy, which have sold more than five million copies worldwide, ‘The Worst Witch‘ is a major new story bringing the book’s beloved characters to the stage. A musical, the production is written by Emma Reeves, and directed by Theresa Heskins.

The cast of The Worst Witch. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

  A play-within-a-play, ‘The Worst Witch’ follows the students of Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches as they put on a play that has been written by Mildred, based on her past experiences at the school. From her accidental presence on the first day, to her lessons – potions class, flying lessons, singing and ballet classes – Mildred struggles to fit in. Lacking the witching experience that some of the more seasoned members of the class are privilege to, Mildred works hard to overcome the barrier her background presents, and sets out to prove that she can be just as powerful as those who were born into it.

  Danielle Bird is irresistible as the accident-prone Mildred. Awkward and clumsy, Mildred is often tripping over things and falling flat on her face. She has a keen sense of right and wrong, however, and, a role model in loyalty and bravery, she teaches us that it doesn’t matter where we come from, or who our parents are. We all have the power within us to make a difference and to stand up for what is right. Mildred had no friends before she accidentally joined the Academy, and felt as though she didn’t belong. Now, Mildred works hard to prove that she belongs here, and that she is good enough.

Danielle Bird (Mildred Hubble) in The Worst Witch. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

  Polly Lister doubles as Miss Cackle and her evil twin sister Agatha. A wonderful performance on both counts, Lister dazzles as the gentle Miss Cackle and the villainous Agatha, who desires to take control of the school – the first step in her plan to achieve world domination, and make witching great again. A skilful Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, Lister fabulously demonstrates two , personalities that lie in polar opposite to each other, doing so with ease, particularly during a fast-paced seen which sees her don two halves of two costumes, with a conversation ensuing between the two characters, with Lister spinning around to answer her other self.  

  Rosie Abraham’s gloriously melodramatic Ethel Hallow is the epitome of the classic school bully. Coming from a family of highly-esteemed witches, believing that Mildred does not deserve to be alongside them, Ethel goes out of her way to sabotage Mildred’s chances of a future at the school, hoping to get her expelled.

  Rachel Heaton is a joy as the strict, straight-laced Miss Hardbroom, who drops her defences at the end of the show, and Consuela Rolle shines as Enid, a young witch who has been expelled from school a total of 17 times (not including the time she burnt down her nursery).

Danielle Bird (Mildred Hubble) and Rachel Heaton (Miss Hardbroom) in The Worst Witch. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

  The musical features original music and songs, which make for a great addition to the show’s fun and thematic story-line. Although the lyrics were occasionally hard to distinguish due to the volume at which the instruments were played, the songs are catchy and upbeat, and are sure to have you nodding and smiling along.

  Most of the action takes place within the Academy, and a skeletal structure of the building dominates the back part of the stage. Layered and dimensional, it allows for the appearance of several rooms, including Mildred’s bedroom, and Miss Cackle’s office. Jars in all shapes and sizes, their multi-coloured contents glowing, cement the school’s reputation as being a place of wonder, magic and enchantment. The young witches moving around different set pieces and wheeling on large props are an endearing reminder that this is a show being put on by these students, but though their means might be limited, their imaginations certainly aren’t.

Danielle Bird (Mildred Hubble) in The Worst Witch. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

  To the delight of all audience members, the show does contain several magic tricks, or illusions, courtesy of magic consultant John Bulleid. As one might expect from a school for witches, students frequently disappear, whilst others appear, as if from nowhere, in their place. One particularly noteworthy scene sees an airborne Mildred and friend Maude become victim to the sweeping movements of a rogue broomstick, an incredible feat of the actors’ agility.

  An enchanting elixir of mishap, mayhem, mischief and magic, with more than an acceptable level of hilarity, ‘The Worst Witch’ casts a charming spell over its audience, holding us in its web of wonder and imagination.

The cast of The Worst Witch. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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