They come in pink, black, yellow and red like a field of wildflowers but they are the bewigged Middle School coven who make up the bulk of the cast of Roald Dahl’s horror comedy opening his weekend. First published in 1983 and made into a movie starring Angelica Huston in 1990, The Witches tells the story of recently orphaned boy Luke and his Norwegian grandmother Helga who defeat the grand high witch and her followers holding a conference in an English seaside hotel. Tickets to the play are free, but they need to be reserved here.
Seventh grader Georgia W. is Mr. Jenkins. “He’s the father of Luke’s friend Bruno. I’m a rude drunk guy bossing my son around.” She gave a concise summary of the play. “It’s about a boy who comes to England after his parents die in a car crash. He gets poisoned by witches and they try to poison the witches back.” Despite Roald Dahl’s trademark flirtations with darkness and tragedy, “it’s a lot of fun,” said Georgia. “It’s good for all ages. It’s really funny.”
Luke’s grandmama Helga warns him early in the play that he needs to learn to spot witches because they like nothing better than squelching children. Little does she know a gaggle of witches have gathered at their hotel for an annual convention. Sixth grader Clara S. plays Andre, the hotel the Chef. “He’s a comic role, actually. He likes to spit in the meat and throw things,” she explained of her character. “He would definitely fail a sanitary inspection. When a mouse goes into the other chef’s knickers I get to pull them off. That’s my favorite part.”
Eighth grader Oscar D. plays the unnamed witch who first accosts protagonist Luke while he’s building a treehouse. “She’s the boy’s first encounter with the witch in his treehouse.” “It’s a fun adaptation of a really good book,” he said. “The tech is amazing.” A talented musician, Oscar played trumpet in the pit during the fall production of Ragtime. “That was a heavy play,” he said, “and The Witches is a change from that.”
Director and theatre teacher Lorna Jordan agreed. “After working on Animal Farm and Ragtime, both really important pieces with serious themes, I decided to work on something a little more whimsical and it’s been a fun process,” she said. “This play is magical, silly, and the production is full of surprises. It’s great for little kids and adults alike.” The large cast and crew sizes are an added benefit. “A big part of the choice was also the casting possibilities. Theatre teachers often struggle with a lack of female roles and I have often had female-identifying students gripe about having to play male roles so often, so this piece afforded a chance to have the roles reversed.”
Fifth graders Willa U., Dessa M. , Mae-mae W. and Tessa S. are part of the backstage crew. “It’s about a boy who’s turned into a mouse by witches,” said Dessa.
“And he’s stopping them from turning all of the children of England into witches,” said rear screen projectionist Tessa.
The hardest part of crewing backstage? “Squatting to run beneath the projectors,” said Willa. The best part? “Today, getting to leave class 20 minutes early to the ice cream social the Middle School had to end ERBs,” she giggled. “That’s why we’re hyper.”
Such hyperactivity has come in handy for the long rehearsals. For Lorna, the biggest challenge has indeed been the use of two rear screen projections, which is a rarity in BFS productions. “I wanted to try something new, particularly because they’re becoming such a standard element in professional theatres,” she said. “It’s been quite a learning experienced for me, the cast, and the crew to work with a more digital set.”