The Worst Witch – Vaudeville Theatre  

Transferred from Royal and Derngate Northampton, which produced it last year, to the Vaudeville for a short West End summer run The Worst Witch is humane, funny and beautifully staged.

Jill Murphy’s entertaining, imaginative boarding school for witches pre-dated Harry Potter by a whole generation. And Emma Reeve’s witty adaptation ensures that we don’t forget that.

One of its (many) strengths is the integrated use of actor-musos. Yes, there’s an up-stage, on-stage band of sorts – led by talented Molly-Grace Cutler – but they also come forward to play roles and sometimes other actors nip back to play instruments.

Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird), the titular worst witch, arrives at the school to find every task difficult so things constantly go wrong for her. Bird is a splendid actor: rueful, anxious, decent, worried. She is also a fine singer and – what a lovely surprise! – no mean acrobat either as we see when she gets aloft on her broomstick.

Rosie Abraham shines as Ethel, the obnoxious know-it-all bully who delights in being outrageous. With a petite stature she’s totally convincing as a 12-year-old. Consuela Rolle finds lots of larger-than-life brashness in energetic Enid and she’s a fine jazz singer. There’s a lovely performance from Rachel Heaton as Miss Hardbroom, the deputy head. She’s strict and uncompromising, often putting her charges down – until eventually she thaws. And Polly Lister is enormous fun as the rather dappy, kindly headmistress, Miss Cackle (most of us remember from school someone very much like her) and doubling as her glittering, witchy twin sister Agatha. Really though, this is an ensemble piece in which all eleven performers work very effectively together and play off each other with verve.

I vividly remember the cover illustrations from the copies of Jill Murphy’s books that my children had in the 1980s and Simon Daw’s set captures those spiky blue silhouettes perfectly. He also makes neat use of a scaffold with steps and platforms which slides backwards and forwards and provides the action with visual depth.