A chain-smoking Grandma, a meeting for child killers, parents dead in a car crash, animal cruelty, a downbeat ending – all features of Dundee Rep’s family production this Christmas. Defying expectations as always, perhaps the theatre has gone a little too leftfield this winter season. The suggested age is 6+ and it is perhaps best to stick with this recommendation as the production does feature some grim material and some scary moments. It all arrives of course from the wonderfully twisted world of Roald Dahl, easily one of his darkest children’s novels but also one of his best.
Putting aside the fact it is an odd choice for a Christmas production this is one mighty fine adaptation, perfectly capturing the essence of Dahl’s novel. Irene Macdougall brings her usual gravitas as the Grandmother arriving with her grandson at a Bournemouth hotel. Having warned the boy about the existence of real life witches, the boy soon realises that the said witches are actually arriving at the hotel for a mischievous meeting led by the Grand High Witch. Rep regular Emily Winters has the difficult task of filling the toeless shoes of this role, as it was a memorably iconic one for Anjelica Huston in the 1990 feature film. Winters however makes it her own with a creepy physicality and vocals that perfectly highlight that this is one villain not to mess around with. All of the witches are brought to life with excellent make-up and the meeting at the hotel is a standout scene. Similarly Moyo Akande provides the shows scariest moment appearing as the first witch who approaches our hero.
The show is steeped in atmosphere and the production as a whole is of very high quality; there is a little lacking in the fun department, however. Before the show begins a wickedly amusing voice-over asks the children in the audience to look around the auditorium to see if they can spot a witch. This lighter-hearted element seems to get lost within the production and the finale at the hotel restaurant could have benefited from a little more humour.
Dahl himself would no doubt have been a big fan of this production however as it does remain extremely loyal to the novel. Adapted by David Wood, he has perfectly captured the quirky dark side of Dahl’s writing and this is a must see for any children brave enough to sit through it. On the plus side for the parents, the threat of the Grand High Witch might provide a perfect bargaining tool this Christmas when the little ones are getting out of hand.