“If I said that I would listen, might that ease the doubt?”
A theatre I hadn’t been to before and a musical I hadn’t heard before – the offer to go and see the Watermill’s adaptation of the 2000 West End show The Witches of Eastwick seemed like a no-brainer. But though I am glad to be able to tick both of those boxes, I have to admit to being rather disappointed with the show and such disillusionment is only magnified when one has made a not inconsiderable effort to go out of town to see a show. As with many of the productions at this venue, it is an actor-musician led revival, directed here by Craig Revel-Horwood and so one is habitually left in awe at the amount of talent being displayed on this cramped stage, I’m just not convinced that this musical is worth it.
Written by John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe from John Updike’s novel of the same name, the story focuses on three New England women unhappy with their lot in life who get swept up into the influence of newcomer Darryl Van Horne, whose demonically charming ways transform all their lives as he seduces them one by one. But though it may be better the devil you know, the changes he wreaks threaten to go too far and it proves no easy task to put this particular genie back into the bottle. Tom Rogers’ set design works wonders in such an intimate space, not least with a well-executed flying scene, too many aspects of the production felt problematic to me.
The sound mix was wrong throughout, the music being too loud and obscuring much of the lyrical heft of the show. One can only hope that all the jokes were in these bits as I rarely found myself laughing in something that was described as a musical comedy. And with this lack of comedy came a strangeness of tone to the story, about the inhabitants of this town and their intense unlikeability. There’s little to hold onto in terms of an engaging story, the sympathies not teased out for any character of note, and just not enough charisma present to mean that any of that doesn’t matter.
Tiffany Graves, Joanna Hickman and Poppy Tierney make a strident leading trio though, dodgy potter’s wheel routine aside, and Rosemary Ashe is her usual good value for money in a role she actually created more than a decade ago. Ross William Wild and Naomi Petersen do well as love’s young dream and Alex Bourne was interesting, if not quite impeccable, as the dastardly Van Horne. I’d be hard-pressed to identify exactly what it was that perturbed me the most about this show but I do think it has something to do with the salacious of it all which never really feels justified, there’s never enough positivity about the message to stop it from being, well, pervy.