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Watermill Theatre - The Witches of Eastwick

25th July to 14th September 2013

Review from Newbury Theatre.

In a sleepy New England town, Sukie, Jane and Alexandra are bored. Their lives are mundane and they are sexually unfulfilled. They want a man. The answer to their prayers arrives in town in the shape of Darryl Van Horne: handsome, confident and charismatic, transforming their lives as they become his coterie of lovers. Darryl develops their previously undiscovered ability as witches, encouraging them to practise voodoo on Felicia Gabriel, the generally disliked bossy matriarch. When Darryl turns to a younger lover, the three get their revenge.

This is another of the Watermill’s trademark actor-musician productions, directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood who has directed many of the Watermill’s previous musicals. Fitting a big production onto the Watermill’s tiny stage is always a challenge, but here Revel Horwood and designer Tom Rogers have excelled themselves. The sumptuous set is the most complex I have seen here, and the intensity of the singing and dancing is almost overpowering (although the sound levels would be better if they were turned down a notch).

Alex Bourne as Darryl is excellent; commanding yet sleazy, and sufficiently unlikeable that we are pleased when he gets his come-uppance. Joanna Hickman’s Jane transforms beautifully from dowdy and repressed into sexy via an impressive orgasm involving her cello and Darryl. Tongue-tied Sukie (Tiffany Graves) and frustrated sculptor Alexandra (Poppy Tierney) undergo similar metamorphoses. All three performances are full of life and energy.

Rosemary Ashe as Felicia produces a surprising range of objects from her mouth, and CiCi Howells plays an impressive collection of instruments.

The songs are lively, if not very memorable, and the rousing Dirty Laundry towards the end of the first act is great fun.

If women wrestling in mud is your thing, you’ll enjoy act two. The whole production is extremely slick and fast-paced with a strong cast of 14. If you’re looking for something serious and thought provoking, this isn’t it, but it’s a very enjoyable evening. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘spectacular’.


Review from The Times.

three stars
Black magic is afoot at the idyllic Watermill – though the spell cast by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe’s musical is easily broken. Based on John Updike’s 1984 novel and the subsequent Hollywood film, it had its premiere in the West End 13 years ago. The creators have since tinkered with it; yet, while Craig Revel Horwood’s raunchy revival keeps the cauldron bubbling, the show remains a weak, thin potion in which even the chewier morsels are salty but unsatisfying. Still, this staging weaves its own enchantment, with some bewitching performances, uncanny special effects and a fiendishly clever design.

In Tom Rogers’s set, blue skies and fluffy clouds arc over white picket fences and wisteria-clad timber homes. For the rumbustious stand-out number Dirty Laundry, an orgy of the gossip, eavesdropping and curtain-twitching on which the imaginary small New England town of Eastwick thrives, snoopers exchange scurrilous titbits amid a cat’s cradle of washing lines. It’s in such visual wit that Revel Horwood’s production excels.

His cast boasts some fine voices; but Dempsey and Rowe’s songs, spanning gospel, rock’n’roll and swoony cinematic melodies, aren’t especially memorable and their execution by the band of actor-musicians is ragged. That matters much less, however, when the necromantic antics start to get steamy. Alex Bourne as Darryl Van Horne, the “horny little devil” who arrives in Eastwick one stormy night, is both creepy and toothily magnetic, with an outrageous bulge in his snug-fitting trousers. He gives Joanna Hickman’s acerbic schoolteacher Jane a cello lesson that climaxes in a creative erotic use of the bow; sets Alexandra (Poppy Tierney), a cynical sculptor, spinning on her own potter’s wheel; and prompts the shy journalist Sukie (Tiffany Graves) to wrap her lips around more than a tongue-twister.

Even more eye-popping is Rosemary Ashe as Eastwick’s self-appointed moral guardian Felicia Gabriel – a role she created in the original production. She’s a termagant who gets a grisly comeuppance when the three witches send her a curse that sees her vomiting up tennis balls, cherry pits and loose change. And the women’s flight through a starry night sky is conjured here with a simplicity that is genuinely wondrous. This isn’t the most powerful piece of sorcery but it’s an entertaining, demonic dalliance.


Review from The Daily Telegraph.

two stars
The idyllic Watermill Theatre has a big reputation for its musicals. Indeed one of them, John Doyle’s production of Sweeney Todd, transferred first to the West End and then to Broadway where the director picked up a Tony award for his pains. I cannot see this year’s summer offering making the same dizzying progress.

The Witches of Eastwick, based on the novel by John Updike about three bored and unsatisfied women in a smug New England town who are seduced and empowered by the demonic Darryl Van Horne, has never really clicked as a musical. Cameron Mackintosh produced it not once but twice, first in 2000, and then in a revised version the following year, but the show, by the American writers John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe never did boffo business and failed to transfer to Broadway.

The show was significant, as it marked the return of musical comedy after a couple of decades of doomy-gloomy through-sung blockbusters. The problem with The Witches of Eastwick was that it wasn’t funny enough and none of the songs lodged firmly in the memory.

That’s still the case in Craig Revel Horwood’s exhausting and ultimately unrewarding revival. The notoriously acerbic judge of Strictly Come Dancing invites a low score and a verbal lashing himself on this occasion. The band is too loud, and the performers struggle stridently to make themselves heard. The lyrics may not be Cole Porter but there are flickers of wit and it ought to be possible to hear them clearly.

On the plus side, Horwood does stage the show deftly on this tiny stage, and Tom Rogers has come up with a neat design to conjure the New England location. Surprisingly, however, Horwood’s choreography strikes me as surprisingly workaday apart from a soft porn-style routine in which the three leading actresses, who spend a good deal of the evening in black lingerie, daub each other with wet potter’s clay to erotic effect.

I think I have belatedly rumbled why this show has never taken off. It’s usually women who book theatre tickets and I think many will find the idea of three sexy “witches” agreeing to take part in orgies with a lothario who may or may not have come from the infernal region faintly repellent. It all feels like a dirty old man’s lubricious fantasy.

It doesn’t help that in Alex Bourne’s performance Darryl Van Horne seems such a seedy infernal seducer, doing his best to conceal his paunch and trotting out glib, pleased with himself pick-up lines that would make most women wince rather than fall into his arms.

Tiffany Graves, Joanna Hickman and Poppy Tierney embody the objects of his desire with the required mixture of wit and allure, and Rosemary Ashe, who appeared in the original production and is clearly a glutton for punishment, once again plays the town busybody who under a nasty spell spews up alien objects like tennis balls and feathers, followed by a spectacular bout of projectile vomiting. Mind you, watching this production I began to feel more than a little queasy myself.


Review from the Daily Mail.

Strictly Come Dancing's Craig brings saucy sorcery to middle England

Devilishly good fun

four stars
Nearly 30 years since John Updike published his novel, the witches are still weaving their saucy magic.

The original musical adaptation of the book struggled in the West End in 2000, but this latest production, directed by Strictly’s hanging judge Craig Revel Horwood, is enchanting.

Horwood makes the most of the fact this is a big story in a small town.

Cue the Watermill’s idyllic setting in the heart of Middle England. It’s a perfect counterpart to the buttoned-up world of Updike’s provincial novel, with sexual hijinks behind twitching curtains. 

The white clapboard-and-picket-fence architecture of well-heeled America on Tom Rogers’s set fits perfectly inside the Watermill’s cosily appointed Georgian barn.

And with a cast of 14 squeezed on to the tiny stage, it catches exactly the claustrophobia of a place where everyone tuts over everyone else’s business.

Best of all is Alex Bourne as the devilish Darryl (played by Jack Nicholson in the film).

The ladies of Eastwick are seduced with consummate ease by his cool blue eyes, glowing behind tweaked eyebrows and neat goatee. 

Of these ladies, Joanna Hickman makes gloriously immodest use of her cello in a duet with Bourne; Poppy Tierney gets down and  dirty as the clay-modelling  artist; and Tiffany Graves flings aside her glasses as the smouldering bookworm. 

Rosemary Ashe is stunningly possessed, too, as the embittered nimby — in a production that has everyone playing an instrument, from an electric guitar to a French horn.


Review from The British Theatre Guide and the Newbury Weekly News.

Wickedly wonderful Witches

Craig Revel Horwood's sassy Watermill production is this summer's must-see

The Witches of Eastwick, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until September 14

The Watermill Theatre’s revival of The Witches of Eastwick, based on John Updike’s novel with book by John Dempsey and music by Dana P Rowe, is simply superb.

Even the ponderous storm clouds lurking outside were in harmony with the howling wind and thunderclaps created in the theatre.

Inspirational director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood has worked his magic in this high energy and highly impressive production. Moreover, he is blessed with a stellar talented cast that give their all.

The trademark actor/musician formula is used to great effect with the cast playing a plethora of instruments that create a true big band sound, and the singing is powerful and delightful.

Tom Roger’s striking set recreates the white picket fences and clapboard houses of this sleepy New England town and many surprises.

Guarding the morals of Eastwick is the interfering “queen bee” Felicia Gabriel, excellently played by Rosemary Ashe, who embraces the comedy elements with relish. Jeffrey Harmer gives a strong cameo role as her long-suffering alcoholic husband Clyde.

But life in Eastwick is monotonously dull and boring with the occasional martini party bringing light relief, but all of this changes when Darryl Van Horne arrives in town and the lives of the townsfolk change forever.

Poppy Tierney is the feisty single mum and potter Alexandra. Joanna Hickman is the frustrated cello playing schoolteacher Jane and Tiffany Graves plays the embryonic newspaper reporter and poet Sukie.

All three give dynamic performances that are a joy to watch. Van Horne individually seduces them all. They are beguiled by his charm and sex appeal and learn some of his devilish spells as he releases the powers locked within them.

Alex Bourne exudes charisma as this audacious brazen devil incarnate, an outstanding performance.

But their newfound sexual freedom causes a scandal as the townsfolk meet to do their laundry and gossip about Van Horne’s excesses in a hilarious number Dirty Laundry.

Naomi Petersen and Ross William Wild bring a delightful love story as the teenagers Jennifer and Michael.

Dexter Galang is the splendid manservant Fidel with Greg Last as the Reverend Parsley and there is sterling support from Esther Biddle, CiCi Howells, Gavin Whitworth and Gary Mitchinson.

There is a glorious theatrical moment when the witches “fly” above the audience — it’s a magical end to act one.

Events begin to spiral out of control as the Witches become more powerful and they Dance with the Devil. But they turn against Van Horne when he goes too far and eventually they send him back to where he belongs in a dramatic ending.

This is a wonderfully wicked production that had the audience laughing out loud and thoroughly enjoying this suggestive, sassy production with a genuine warmth and enthusiastic applause.

The perfect summer fun and must surely have a transfer to London. Don’t miss it.


There are reviews from The Public Reviews ("the cast as a whole are strong, the songs, though not well-known, are good and it certainly compels you to keep watching" - 3.5 stars), The Good Review ("it’s hard to imagine anyone failing to be impressed by the sheer pizazz of this production, and the energy, commitment and virtuosity of its performers" - 4 stars), Marlborough People ("this summer's must see show... ensemble acting at its best... catch this show when you can") and The Stage ("no one is very likeable in this chastening story of the three women chasing sexual fulfilment and the man manipulating their desires").