The Witches Of Eastwick

Date 14th May 2015
Society The East Cheshire Musical Theatre Company
Venue Altrincham Garrick Playhouse
Type of Production Musical
Director Anna Cooper
Musical Director Daniel McDwyer
Choreographer Various

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

Be careful what you wish for….
This devilishly witty musical; ‘THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK’ is based on the hugely successful film of the same name starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeifer and Cher. The action takes place in the small New England community of ‘Eastwick’ with its equally small minded townsfolk and in particular, three bored housewives. This production showcases an ensemble cast who bring to life the story of the quiet little town dealing with the arrival of a stranger who shakes up the natural order.

What I like about this show is the complexity of the three leading female characters who sit at the centre of the story. You rarely get this number of well-written female characters in one musical. While the show is very entertaining with its typical American musical comedy style, the main theme of the story is really about self-empowerment. I found this production as a whole very enjoyable with some strong group moments and individual performances too.

Anna Cooper, the productions Director, had staged exactly what the book asks of the director. This is not the easiest of shows to tackle, though the challenges of this piece seemed to have taken her eye off the simplicity of directorial duties which may have been taken for granted, such as; are your actors lit at this point and can we actually see what’s going on behind that curtain which is supposed to mask those set changes?

I appreciated the simplicity of the shows design, the picket fences and animated cut outs of the suburban houses created and set the scene commendably. 

The black curtain did start to grate after the ninetieth time! Specifically when there really wasn’t any purpose for it as we could all clearly see everything that was going on behind it so when it did open, it wasn’t revealing anything new, it just posed as a distraction from what we were supposed to be focused on.

A uniformed style of delivery was missing from the principals as each one was portraying their own vision for their character which prevented them gelling together, some were portraying a ‘real’ feel and naturalistic style while others were overly animated, highly energised and larger than life – neither of these portrayals is right or wrong and the show could work equally as well one way or the other but I felt the decision to depict which was the desired style for this production needed to be communicated to the cast as half and half only created a clash of delivery styles for me.

Matt Mear’s offered an original take on Darryl Van Horne, I adored his effortless voice and equally liked how he underplayed the role with a subtle delivery, refusing to get swept up in the hammy bravado which is a common trap for roles such as these.

Strong support came from Vicki Harrison and Gabriel Walker as Jennifer & Michael. The score only required Vicki to sing a tiny bit but vocally, out of all the female principals I’d say Vicki had the clearest and most pleasant voice of them all, it was a shame her character wasn’t required to sing more. Gabriel offered good humour with this transformation from lovable nerd to sex mad beast! The audience certainly enjoyed relishing in the ridiculousness of Felicia (Krystina Hood), Clyde (John Hilliard) and Fidel the Butler (Anthony Lambe).

The moment every audience member looks forward to in this production is the flying, during this scene it was such a shame to be able to see, in full view, all of the flying apparatus. The entire set for that scene needed to be black to help disguise the flying effect kit, it was a heart sinking moment when this scene approached as the run up to the ‘moment’ was overly exposed with no creative input to disguise the effect.

Making one of the shows strongest statements was Daniel McDwyer and his able musicians. The group harmony work between principals and chorus alike were terrific and the music from the pit sounded marvellous. The three witches singing together sounded beautiful – I’d say better than when either of the three sang alone which echoes the theme of the piece very nicely; that they are stronger when they’re together.

The choreography had some impressive moments, I loved the movement during Darryl’s entrance number and again during ‘Dirty Laundry’ – both of which exposed the best movement in the show.

Alexandra Howarth convincingly translated the insecurities of her character hidden behind a false, brassy front - even though - the reasons she is insecure (physique) were certainly not a problem at all given Alex is well within her prime and has a figure most women would kill for. Kimberley Edge bestowed the boldest characterisation of the three presenting a quirky impression offering plenty of chuckles and charisma and finally, Andrea Sutcliffe as Jane, the least lofty of the three, gave a subtle and humble interpretation.

I certainly came away with a smile on my face and, like many in the crowd, had a wonderful evening’s entertainment. Many congratulations.