Wednesday, 8 October 2008

REVIEW: "The Witches of Eastwick" (UK Tour)

(Still catching up, two shows behind now, two more on this week's theatregoing agenda. To a certain author/composer who posted a comment recently, the RZ is trying to get his hands on your concept album so he can have a listen and reply appropriately.)

Well, the RZ saw The Witches of Eastwick for the first time on Friday night in Wimbledon. It was a pleasant evening, and he has to say that he left the theatre with songs such as “Words Words Words” and “Dance with the Devil” stuck in his head where they've remained through writing this review. So far, so good right? Right.

But may he be bold enough to offer those responsible a piece of unsolicited advice about the show? Yes? Good.

Stop changing it. Seriously. Because you see, while the RZ, a new visitor to Eastwick, had a decent enough time - as did a friend’s companion for the evening - my friend himself (and it appears many visitors on the UK message boards) did not. Pleasant memories of the prior two London productions run rife through the community here, and the endless revisionism this show has undergone is starting to hurt more than help.* After a while it reaches a point where one has to just sit and wonder “why?” If they’re so unhappy with the show, why has it had multiple commercial productions in the past (when it should have perhaps stayed in workshop?) and why not just walk away and move on to new work that can be better than the last one? Because eventually there will be so much editing and rewriting that you wind up with Starlight Express syndrome: a hodgepodge of ideas and revisions that no longer functions as a coherent, cohesive show that loses the charm and appeal of the original work.

Needless to say, the mantra that comes to the RZ’s mind is “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and it seems that audience members the RZ has spoken to feel that the older versions weren’t broken, which is a shame as the current version certainly is. Going into details (vs. making a metacritical statement) requires more familiarity with the material than this author has.

How so, you ask? Well, there’s something missing now, particularly in the second act. It’s hard to describe the sensation, but at times it felt like the show was in the background or like watching other people enjoying the show (like watching friends play video games). It’s not that the RZ was bored, more that he felt disconnected in a rather off-putting way - and last he checked, this is not a show that aims for Brechtian alienation.

And then there’s the mixed messages: is this a show about the power of sisterhood? How about that men are scum? Or is it meant to be a misogynistic piece about the two-faced and manipulative nature of women who, as a result, deserve to be manipulated by the men around them? The show in its current form touches on all three, while (according to Wikipedia anyways) the film version leans towards the first option, which is likely why people find it endearing. The RZ will, however, point out that the show’s accusatory opinions of small town American are entirely accurate.

Anyhow, putting the textual problems aside, on to the current production: designer Peter Mckintosh has gone for a look straight out of Archie comics with cartoony houses and pastel coloured costumes. It works, but the RZ wonders if something with a more realist approach wouldn’t have served the material and the fantastical aspects better.

Cast-wise, Rebecca Thornhill reprises the role of Sukie Rougemont from the London transfer production, but the RZ found her performance - like most of the cast’s - to be on the unmemorable side. The cast weren’t bad but there was a lack of stage presence all around, possibly due to catching an 8:30 show which followed a 5:00 matinee.** Pop star Marti Pellow did stand out however, but not in a particularly attractive manner: his voice is higher than the RZ expected for Daryl, and he plays the character as so immature that when he expresses his desire for children to the trio of witches, it’s impossible to understand why. And while he certainly came off with more charisma than most of the cast, it just wasn’t enough to really impress.

As the RZ said above, he found The Witches of Eastwick pleasant, but this production lacks punch. Those who haven’t seen the show before could do far worse than to catch the tour if it’s coming nearby, but previous Witches fans may find themselves disappointed.

*The current UK tour is the fifth edition of the show, the previous editions being the original Drury Lane production, the transfer to the Prince of Wales (rev1), the Australian production (rev2), the Washington DC area production (rev3), and now this tour (rev4). Even The Scarlet Pimpernel only has four official versions.

**For those unfamiliar with UK scheduling, some shows opt to have a late double on Friday which allows an after-school family or after-work crowd to go to the theatre before dinner/clubbing/whatever. In this case, the first performance was at 5PM and the second at 8:30. Witches ran around 2:50 with an interval, meaning that the cast effectively had their half hour call as soon as the curtain went down from the early show.

Where: Touring. Seen at the New Wimbledon.
When: Until 9 May 2009
How Much: Varies by venue
Concessions: Varies by venue
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £15. Discounts are out there if you know where to look.
RZ Other Notes: This may be the longest review in recent memory.

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