Long before Harry Potter or Hermione Grainger there was Mildred Hubble – an ordinary girl who found herself enrolled in a school for witches. But I have boys and they have never read the books, so armed with only having seen the odd episode on CBBC, we headed off to the Belgrade to see the show.
Based on Jill Murphy’s classic series of children’s novels, this action-packed production sees Mildred return for her final year at Miss Cackle’s Academy, where some big surprises are in store. Jealous Ethel Hallow is always out to spoil Mildred’s fun, while stern Miss Hardbroom is firmly opposed to all forms of fun in general. And just as accident-prone Mildred sparks some inevitable mayhem that’s certain to upset them both, an old enemy returns with a plan for revenge that could threaten not just the Academy, but the entire world! All of this is actually presented as a play within a play, with the students performing a show that tells the audience how Mildred ended up as a witch.
From the start, the characters move around the theatre and interact with the audience which leads to an engaging and entertaining show. Then there is the musical ability of the all-female cast. The music comes from the brilliant on-set band and the songs come thick and fast. From all cast numbers to dramatic solos, I was blown away by the quality. There were plenty of jokes too (including some little digs at Harry Potter) which helped keep this light-hearted and fast paced show bobbing along.
Action sequences were performed by the cast in slow motion, which was so clever and worked really well. The magical spells were accompanied by sound and light effects, which added to the spectacle (and got the thumbs up from my eldest (and as he is almost 11, that is no mean feat!)). There was even a dramatic sequence involving Mildred and Maud on broom trapeezes, that kept us all on the edge of our seats. My favourite element however, was the introduction of the "familiars" - the students' cats. Mildred's cat, Tabby, popped up quite a bit in the performance and was in the form of a hand puppet. I raised an eyebrow at this to start but it was unusual and funny to see Tabby move from character to character and even meow quite a lot. I wasn't always sure how they did it!
The long running battle between Miss Cackle and her evil twin, Agatha, brought the play within a play to an end, only for there to be a twist! This led to another funny and often dramatic performance from Miss Cackle/Agatha (played by the same cast member), with plenty of audience participation (much to the delight of the younger children in the audience) and even more singing as everyone got involved in overcoming evil.
Fans of the book and the TV series will love it. And if it's passed you by too (like us), I'm pretty sure you will love it too. I can't recommend it highly enough!.
Mum of two boys and editor for Coventry & Nuneaton.