Photo: Liam Walls
A technically demanding show like The Witches of Eastwick requires not just a suitable venue but also a cast able to meet the demands of the score and style of the piece, which can so easily go wrong in inexperienced hands. From the beginning of the Cygnet Players production, however, under the confident direction of Jonny Clines and MD Sam Fisher, it was clear that the cast were more than up to the challenge.
The London Oratory School Theatre is an attractive venue and used by a number of local groups. Sightlines are good, scenery can be flown and the stage is comparatively large. There were downsides to the venue being in a school of course, the route through the darkened playground for example; but a warm welcome awaited everyone from the front of house staff, although one fears for the voice of the person calling the minutes if someone doesn’t get her a microphone instead of requiring her to bellow in the foyer.
The attractive sets from Scenic Projects looked good on the stage, and the special effects were well managed, especially the tricks played on Felicia and the flying at the end of Act One. It was unfortunate though that the green and white flats from Act One were visible in the wings during Act Two; blacks hung in the wings could have obscured them but may not have been available.
Lighting was good, with colour well used in this non-naturalistic piece, although excess of blue light is becoming something of a cliché. The three follow-spots were used to good effect and it would have been good to have the operators credited in the programme – steady and well-timed follow-spot operation is a real art. The moving lights suited the piece well, although perhaps used a little too often. However, these small quibbles should not stand in the way of indicating that this was an excellent production by a talented cast.
The central trio of women, on whom most of the show rests, were more than up to the task. Charlotte Donald, Helen Burgess-Bartlett and Rhian Roberts effectively owned the stage each time they appeared, ensuring all eyes were upon them, and playing off each other very effectively. They also interacted well with Kate Chesworth’s energetic portrayal of Felicia. As Darryl Van Horne, Nick Moorhead looked the part and provided a suitably demonic presence in the town, well sung and acted.
Singing throughout was extremely impressive, but it was such a shame that so many of the performers were drowned out on occasion by the well-played but very loud drums. Most West End musicals now encase their drummer in Perspex shields or behind other sound baffles, and this is something that amateur theatre should consider as well. When singing is as good as it was here, it is a great shame not to be able to hear it all.
Smaller roles were ably played by Neil Wease as Clyde and Avril and Mark Stanford as Jennifer and Michael, with Bethany Wilkinson impressive as the Little Girl. The hard-working ensemble, with many young as well as experienced performers among them, are kept busy in this show and they were totally focussed and tightly choreographed throughout; and this was a text-book example by choreographer Kim Findlay of what can be done with a large cast in a show such as this.
The original UK production was much improved when it was reduced in size as it moved from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to the Prince of Wales; Jonny Clines and Cygnets have shown that the show is perhaps at its best in an even smaller venue. This was an excellent production of a technically complex show and should be considered a great achievement for this rapidly expanding company, now supported by new sponsors.
Photo: Liam Walls