REVIEW: HAODS offers a wickedly entertaining evening with The Witches of Eastwick

The Witches of Eastwick, Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, The Capitol, Horsham, November 14-18

Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, 12:19 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:33 am
Debby Scull, Chris Dale, Natalie Hayes and Becky Munden. Pictures: David Veitch/ Chris Dale

After two years of resolutely family-friendly productions, the HAODS team have spent 2017 tackling shows with a decidedly adult edge.

This April’s Made in Dagenham was a colourful and generally optimistic offering but it contained more than its fair share of F-bombs.

It also dealt with some rather heavy issues while hammering home an important message about equality.

Now we have The Witches of Eastwick, a musical by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe that’s based on the novel by John Updike, as well as the 1987 film starring Jack Nicholson and Cher.

It’s a return to the kind of dark territory that HAODS entered in 2014 with Sweeney Todd, only here the violence is toned way down and replaced with raunchy humour.

The tale is set in the bustling little town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, where everyone knows all the gossip about everyone else. Three ladies – Alexandra, Jane and Sukie – are all unlucky in love so, one stormy night, they wish for the perfect man to spice up their lives.

Sure enough, a dashing and devilish new resident arrives by the name of Darryl Van Horne. He has an almost hypnotic ability to charm, a coarse sense of humour and a seemingly insatiable libido.

As the three women get very familiar with Darryl and learn to unleash their true powers, the town’s wealthy busybody Felicia Gabriel decides he’s having a corrupting influence on Eastwick.

Then some truly strange things start to happen...

It’s likely that HAODS will return to more kid-friendly material in 2018 but, for the time being, their take on The Witches of Eastwick is a fiery, funny and enjoyably naughty romp.

It’s full of excellent musical numbers, colourful and well-defined characters and plenty of darkly comic moments.

The singing performances, particularly the harmonising between the three witches of the title, are first-rate, while the dancing (choreographed by Rachel Farrant) is energetic, often wild, but always precise.

Chris Dale has a strong stage presence as Van Horne, presenting an arrogant, sly but surprisingly sympathetic adversary.

He swears, he swaggers, he mocks the uptight townspeople and he delivers every line in a recognisably Jack Nicholson-esque growl.

Debby Scull, meanwhile, is equally strong as Alexandra Spofford, playing her with a hard, no-nonsense attitude that hints at a life shaped by disappointments.

Natalie Hayes is also likeable as the stuttering Sukie Rougemont, a timid woman who has a passion for literature but can’t put her own feelings into words.

Becky Munden puts in arguably the boldest performance of the evening as Jane Smart. In one red-blooded musical number, which features a stirring cello-violin duet, she moves her character from frustrating self-doubt to uninhibited self-confidence.

Lisa Falkner gives a superb performance too with Felicia’s big song ‘Evil’. Not only does she reveal her character’s mental anguish through singing, she really throws herself into the scene’s grotesque slapstick.

Kev Summers is a hoot as Felicia’s husband Clyde and stumbles about as his character knocks back the booze. But he’s not all drunken tomfoolery. In a surprise twist he actually manages to chill the audience, adding a bitter aftertaste to his drink-fuelled antics.

Becca Bracewell and Gus Quintero-Fryatt have less to do as the innocent young lovers Jennifer and Michael, but they make the most of their limited scenes and create a convincing sense of romance. Gus Quintero-Fryatt is clearly having fun too, taking his character from nerdy misfit to leather jacket wearing bad-boy.

The main actors are all well supported by the rest of the cast, which includes Amy Blaskett, Fiona Steel, Paul Milwright, Hannah Warwick, Hannah Jones, Alison Shapley, Chris Hampton, Rob Fletcher and Alicia Marson, plus the dancers and townspeople.

As usual, it’s not just the onstage action that deserves a round of applause. The below-stage skills of the orchestra (with musical director Neil Franks this time) is essential to any HAODS production and the strongly melodic numbers here truly sparkle.

The set design, costumes and lighting remain at a high standard throughout as well, and the strong reds, purples and oranges seem to glow, inviting the audience into the play’s flamboyant world.

There’s very little to criticise with this one. If I had to nitpick, I’d say a few of the opening scenes are a little too slow and loaded with functional dialogue. But that seems to be a flaw of the actual script rather than the performance.

Anyway, the mundane moments are obliterated early on with the arrival of Van Horne, and the ensuing mischief is held together beautifully by director Stacey James, whose love for this musical clearly shines through.

Overall then, it’s a joy to see HAODS present another dynamic musical that’s aimed at a more adult crowd.

It may have pushed some of the performers out of their comfort zones, but it’s resulted in a night of red-hot entertainment.

For those who’d prefer something more innocent, the programme tells me that HAODS’ next big show is Into The Woods, which was recently made into a Disney film.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how much the ‘House of Mouse’ influences that one.

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