The story of Mildred Hubble is a refreshing reminder of the unique power that is within each of us – despite our upbringing, talents, looks or outward ability. It is a wonderful inspiration for every child (and grown-up too!) and a real adventure of friendship, courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. I remember with fondness reading The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy as I grew up – they brought mischief and adventure to my bedtimes and stole me away into a world of mishap and magic, all before a certain bespectacled boy wizard came along!
In 1974, Jill Murphy published her first Worst Witch book; in fact she actually began writing The Worst Witch at the age of 15 while still at school! Jill based many of the plots on her own school experiences at the Ursuline Convent in Wimbledon, with singing lessons becoming chanting, chemistry becoming potions and so on. With over five million copies sold and TV and film adaptations, theatre fans are now invited into the world of Cackle’s as, after a tour, the witches fly into London for a residency with The Worst Witch Live. In fact I did have a little fangirl moment at the theatre as The Grand Witch herself Jill Murphy was in my row! This timeless classic on page is now on stage at London’s Vaudeville for a limited time with an all female cast.
I was excited to be able to catch these trainee witches, their passionate teachers and see the Worst Witch Live in London. The show tells the tale of accident-prone Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird), who is an ordinary girl who finds herself in an extraordinary place when she inadvertently falls in a crowd of trainee witches who are all off to attend Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches.
Unprepared and a little intimidated by this new world, never quite grasping the witches code or potion formulas, Mildred soon finds herself acquainted with friends like she’s never had before, Maud (Rebecca Killick), Enid (Consuela Rolle) and a cat sidekick called “Tabby” (a very well crafted hand puppet!). At Cackle’s, Mildred has an opportunity of a lifetime – to stay and learn the art of witchcraft with her new friends. Miss Cackle (Polly Lister – who actually plays two parts (good and evil) is supportive and encourages Mildred to stay to develop her skills.
Unfortunately, this heartwarming tale does have a twist as jealous fellow witch Ethel (Rosie Abraham) is set on sabotaging this “imposter” and with various spells and deceit she goes head to head with clumsy Mildred and friends leaving a trail of mayhem as they go. Ethel is the real school bully and Rosie plays the part really well as I disliked Ethel just as much as the first time reading the books!
As soon as you take your seat in the theatre, cast members sit, run and walk around the audience – I was pleased I remembered from the books the greeting “Well Met” when scary Miss Hardbroom (Rachel Heston) came past our row! It’s a great idea to meet the characters this way and draws you into the show almost like being in a school assembly! In this production “The Worst Witch” is a play written by Mildred Hubble and by the end of the first half we see the backstage drama take over!
From flying lessons to spells and from cat training to chants, this stage adaptation is a fun and magical tale of friendship, tenacity and a world filled with impossibilities. The show features magic, acrobatics, puppetry, original music (by Luke Potter) – with witches and teachers playing the instruments and plenty of Mildred’s unique brand of utter pandemonium. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and was truly impressed with the great message of friendship and self belief – sometimes the strongest magic we all have in this world as adults!
The Worst Witch Live is at The Vaudeville Theatre in Covent Garden, London, till 8th September.