THEATRE / The Witches - Duke of York's, London WC2

The witches in Roald Dahl's much-loved children's story are not of the broomstick-owning, airborne variety, so flight is at least one effect that David Wood's stage adaptation is spared.

There are plenty of tricky moments to compensate, however - mostly to do with rodents. During the course of the action, several people, including the hero, are transformed into mice before your eyes - tiny mice which do things like scurry, talk, eat and pour poison into soup. Playboard Puppets handle this infestation admirably, bemusing adults and children alike with the illusion by which actors vanish into small furry animals. And in a nice touch, we spend a couple of scenes at mouse level, making for a Borrowers-style angle on proceedings and a fine bit of slapstick as the mice approach a skirting-board as if it were Everest.

Dahl won children's hearts with his relish for the revolting, and The Witches is no exception. The night I was there, as a specimen witch demonstrated the tell-tale signs (gloves in all weather, no toes, blue spit and wigs) and whipped off her wig to reveal a wrinkly bald pate, one child cried out, with evident glee, 'That's disgusting]'

The production is slow in places and misses a few tricks (the liberation of a frog enslaved by the Grand High Witch is woefully underplayed), but this is still a good story, well told, with a pleasingly thought-provoking ending, rather than a happy one.

Details in theatre guide, below

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