This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and can be found in it’s original form here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-witches-of-eastwick-the-watermill-newbury/
I have to confess that when I go to the theatre I generally like to find out more about what I am about to see. On this occasion I accepted at short notice and although I had heard of this show, I knew nothing about it. Needless to say it was not what I expected. I actually really enjoyed it but I was just very surprised by the content. I think I was expecting something similar to the Wizard of Oz or Wicked…erm, no!
The production is set in a quiet little town in Eastwick, New England where three friends, Alexandra (Alex) Spofford (Poppy Tierney), Jane Smart (Joanna Hickman) and Sukie Rougemont (Tiffany Graves) are discussing their lives over Martinis, particularly their sex lives and wish that they could meet a nice man. Alex has a son, Michael, (Ross William Wild) who despite his mother’s promiscuity is actually pretty clueless about women and in need of some advice. The three girls are excellent, particularly Spofford, and they sing with power and clarity.
Clyde Gabriel (Jeffrey Harmer) is the long suffering husband of Felicia (Rosemary Ashe – original Carlotta, Phantom of the Opera) who is self-appointed Lady of Eastwick and who frowns upon almost everything that people in the neighbourhood do. Their relationship is unhappy and Ashe plays Felicia as a force to be reckoned with, stern and disapproving. They have a daughter, Jennifer (Naomi Petersen), who is dating Michael, but as with everything else, this is upsetting for Felicia. Sukie and Clyde have been seeing each other for years and the town are aware of the affair but as with most news in the neighbourhod, a lot of it is gossip. Michael and Jennifer are sweet if a little naïve, and Michael certainly has a figure to make the ladies in the audience jaws drop!
One day, everything in Eastwick is disrupted with the arrival of Darryl Van Horne (Alex Bourne). A smooth, attractive character who clearly knows it, Van Horne’s arrival creates upset and a whole world of gossip. Bourne is simply fantastic as Van Horne. He quickly manages to seduce women into falling for him, encourages men into bringing out their wild side and makes Felicia very cross when he starts making alterations to her beloved Lenox House, into which he has moved. His entrance is grand – Darryl Van Horne – and his egotistical nature is clear from the outset.
As the story progresses the audience learn that Alex, Jane and Sukie are in fact witches and it was their powers which had brought Darryl to Eastwick. Through him they learn how to cast spells and pretty soon chaos ensues as they turn their mundane lives into something far more raunchy but also with sinister consequences. There is a strong sexual theme running throughout this production so it is unsuitable for a younger audience, however it is very funny and it is through the dialogue and songs more than the acting that this is apparent. Watch out for some revealing outfits though. For me, Waiting for the Music to Begin’ although very racy is performed brilliantly by Hickman and Bourne and is a really strong musical number, but all three witches have some fantastic songs and play their roles extremely well.
Another highlight of Act One is the song Dirty Laundry. Hilariously choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood (probably best known as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing) this had the audience in fits of laughter. Performed by Marge (Esther Biddle), Girl (CiCi Howells) and two very lovely ladies (Gary Mitchinson and Greg Last) along with Felicia, this one is a really catchy number. Overall there are many memorable songs and extra impressive is that the cast all double up as the orchestra. Each member plays at least one instrument, often more, showing that their talents extend further than those onstage. There were a few moments through the show however when the singing was drowned out a little by the orchestra and it was hard to hear the words.
Act Two is a little darker and the main events of the story are played out here but as with Act One, there are some wonderful pieces, one being Dance with the Devil and another The Glory of Me. Both performed by Bourne – he has a majority of the best lines – these are great fun. The racy theme continues but there are also scenes which contain slightly more disturbing content, however the nature of the show is such that it is still done in an amusing way. I have to say I think Van Horne is a fantastic character and very funny.
There is a lot of action for a small stage and the set has been cleverly designed to fit quite a lot of it into a relatively small space. Parts of the set are pulled out from various locations and the main stage is very quaint, with circular windows and picket fences enclosing the instruments. The auditorium is put to full use as well with the cast leaving and entering through it several times. The cast also set the stage themselves so there are clever links between scenes. Revel Horwood has clearly put a lot of thought into making this work to its maximum potential.
Because of the content this production may not appeal to everyone but the cast as a whole are strong, the songs, though not perhaps as well-known as those from other shows are good and it certainly compels you to keep watching. The audience were extremely receptive to it, there were a lot of laughs and cheers and the venue is simply beautiful and full of history, so as a theatrical experience alone it is well worth a trip. The Watermill is old and the auditorium is cosy with a balcony which looks like a minstrels gallery running around three sides. I would definitely recommend a trip there – the old water wheel is preserved behind glass and there is a lovely bar area and gardens.
I think I would go and see the show again, though it wouldn’t be top of my list but I am definitely glad I got to see it and the raunchiness of it didn’t bother me (though sitting next to folk much older than me while they carried on onstage felt a tad awkward!) but it’s definitely not one for the easily offended. It was done well, a brilliant use of space and quaint set and a strong cast and if you are able to go to the Watermill to see it then do – it’s on until Sept 14.