Are you braced for the evil child-hating witches that have moved into York..?

Yikes! The Grand High Witch and crew. (Left to right): Adam Kane, Eleanor Thornton, Emma Harwood, Tom Bruce, The Grand High Witch, Stan Gaskell, Simon Ellwood. Photographs: Dave Lee
31 Aug 2016 @ 9.17 pm
| Entertainment

It is possibly Roald Dahl’s most fiendish tale, and it’s coming to the Theatre Royal.

The Witches

York Theatre Royal

Thur Sept 1-Sat Sept 3 @7pm; Fri & Sat matinees @ 2.30pm

£12-£16, under 18s £8

More details

Darkly funny classic The Witches is performed by a richly talented group of 16 to 19 year olds under the guidance of Youth Theatre director Kate Veysey and Jenna Drury (of Mud Pie Arts).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, The Witches sees a young boy and his grandmother staying at hotel on the coast. Little do they know this is the venue for the witches’ annual meet.

It marks the return to the main stage of the Youth Theatre since the building’s £6 million redevelopment.

We chatted to some of the cast and crew about taking this story to the stage.

The Witches on set. Photograph: Mike Oakes
The Witches on set. Photograph: Mike Oakes

So out of all of Roald Dahl’s books why pick The Witches?

Kate Veysey (director): I quite like dark stories anyway, ones with a bit of grit in them, and all of Roald Dahl‘s books have a bit of that. But this is the one that really sums up this second reality and the fact that you could be sat next to a witch at the bus stop, and figuring out whether they are one or not.


What’s it been like working with this kind of age group?

It’s been chaos, I’m exhausted. No it has been lovely. I get to work with every age group in my job and I really enjoy aspects of all of them. But with this age group and the fact that they’re coming in during the summer holidays when they could be off inter-railing.

They are here because they want to be here and they want to work, but also want to create something really special.


Is there a difference from working with younger children?

Jenna Drury (assistant director): Not so much. The only thing is that some little people don’t take much encouragement to let go, to be mad old women or mad young witches. With teenage years comes a bit of self-consciousness, they’re usually coming out of it by 16, but not everybody.

So asking them to be daft can be a big ask for some, particularly hard for Maddie [who plays the Boy] because it’s her mother getting her to be daft!


How do you think the younger members of the audience will react to the play?

In my experience children watch theatre in two different ways. You have those children who watch it and it’s all going on internally and they’ll sit very still, and if you try to talk to them they’ll go “shhhh”, because they’re in the zone.

And the other sort of child is the one who can’t keep still because they’re acting it out physically and they start shouting out without realising it, they’re living it at the same time as the actors; it’s fascinating.

But we want them to go home happy, so we’ve put a few things in place to make sure they go home laughing.


Monstrous make-up

In disguise. The witches (left to right)  (left to right): Adam Kane, Stan Gaskell, Simon Ellwood, Tom Bruce, Emma Harwood, Eleanor Thornton
In disguise. The witches (left to right) (left to right): Adam Kane, Stan Gaskell, Simon Ellwood, Tom Bruce, Emma Harwood, Eleanor Thornton

To create blood-curdling witches involves a lot of creative prosthetic effects and make-up. A crack team of backstage volunteers are lead by makeup and special effects guru Chloe Bower.

They have been charged with the task of bringing the ghastly characteristics of the witches to life, be it their freakishly long fingers or wart-riddled faces.

Designer Gem Greaves and lighting designer Alex Stafford-Marshall are on hand to help bring you frighteningly realistic characters and effects to life.

What’s it been like working on The Witches?

Chloe Bowers (wardrobe supervisor): I’ve loved this show, particularly because we’ve had the kids who are so enthusiastic. They really want to help and take part, and they’ve been great trying on the costumes and sourcing things for us.

I wonder what they are going to be like with putting the bald caps on, bearing in mind that is going to be stuck to your face, so it can be quite uncomfortable.

It is entirely sealed, all the way round your forehead, all the way round your neck. So by the end of the day it can get quite sweaty, quite uncomfortable. It’s not very pleasant, but they all seem fair game for it.


What about the costumes?

We’re really lucky – we’ve got a brilliant costume hire downstairs where we can source most of the costumes from.

And other than that it’s just been a charity shop job, we’ve got to be very careful with our budget. However all of the bald witch caps have been made by hand.

It has taken about two days per set, and we’re gonna have three sets altogether, so there will be about thirty bald caps used during the show, covered in sickly warts and veins. I’d love to prance around as a witch, not so sure about wearing the bald cap though, or the mask; quite uncomfortable.


Evil characters

Molly Levitt as the Grand High Witch. Photograph: Dan Cashdan
Molly Levitt as the Grand High Witch. Photograph: Dan Cashdan

We also caught up with some of the young stars of the show, to find out about them travelling to the dark side…

Do you both enjoy playing the evil characters?

Molly Levitt (Grand High Witch): Love it! Evil characters are the best. So much power, you get away with everything, anything you do everyone just rolls with, just because you’re the most important.

Adam Kane (Witch 1): It’s brilliant. They are so much more interesting than normal characters.


So you wouldn’t rather play the hero?

Molly: No way, never.

Adam: You have to just constantly do what everyone expects you to do, smile going yeah it’s great, but we don’t get to kill any children!


How are you both coping with the make-up and prosthetics?

Molly: We’ve been practising with swimming caps, so we both had swimming caps on when we were rehearsing to get used to the pull of it. I mean you don’t get much movement in your eyebrows.

Adam: And it gets really warm under there. I mean we’re going to have a wig on top of that as well.

So it’s going to go our head, bald cap, wig. But you know, it’s good to have the practise.


Has the show been a personal challenge?

Adam: This is the first full show I’ve done for Youth Theatre, and challenge aside, when you realise that you’ve got the pressure of working with all these talented people who have been in Youth Theatre for so much longer, and then they’re expecting so much, it can be a bit scary at times.

You admire the people you are working with so you just really want to do a good job of it.