As a child I don’t recall being regaled by many Witch stories. I do remember being apprehensive about goblins, Rumplestiltskin in particular. For a long time I was also curious and cautious about Trolls living under bridges! We played games like “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” reflecting the better known fables and their underlined threat within. Until seeing Theatre Guild’s production of “Kissing the Witch” I was oblivious to the tales of both “Donkeyskin” and “Goosegirl”.
Director Imogen Deller-Evans uses the playing space of the Little Theatre intelligently to contain and manoeuvre her cast of four, thereby holding our attention throughout. The action commences in an organic way in the manner of all good story telling. We sense the invitation to sit back and listen. The cast of four doing the telling are even in both competence and effectiveness.
Initially the three women gather around what could be a small cauldron and chant their prologue in rhyming couplets. Each of the four cast members play multiple roles. Susan Cilento (First Woman) is variously a young princess who overcomes her fear of “The Beast” and is thus transformed in the best of ways. She is bullied and threatened into a role reversal by her ruthless servant and she also becomes the supplicant “Goosegirl.” She willingly trades her voice in order to enhance her desirability. Susan’s vocal delivery is crisp and clear in each of her roles and transformations. Her stage presence and relaxed communication skills make for a nicely balanced and sustained performance.
Ellie-May Enright (Second Woman) is a Beast who easily evokes our empathy. She is also a kindly and graceful Queen who desires the best for her daughter and gives her a handkerchief talisman marked with several drops of her own blood. She is the Princess in “Donkeyskin” who, by use of several clever ploys, keeps her widowed and grief-crazed father at bay before escaping out beyond the bramble barrier hedge. She addresses her audience with both ease and authority in a performance brim full of confidence and conviction.
Michelle Hrvatin plays the Third Woman. Her stage experience is evident from the start and permeates all her characterisations be they Witch, the Spinster or the nasty amoral servant who would be a privileged princess. At all times Michelle delivers a well controlled and subtly commanding performance.
Sam Wiseman makes an effective King or two (one with a varied and disturbing state of mind). He briefly, but easily, slips into juvenile mode in the final fable of the “lost voice”. Sam has a pleasant voice and, along with his comfortable stage presence, is an effective player in a strong playing ensemble.
As stated above, the playing area is well used. Properties (per Lidya Arway) are well deployed and costuming (by Yolanda Tree) is fitting and matches the underlying themes and role changes across the stories. Notably a most pleasing violin (played by Helen Morriss) is subtle, never obtrusive and well deployed by director Deller-Evans.
The play travels through its ninety or so minutes without any discernible hitch. Its cast of four maintains a goodly pace and rhythm and their timing both within and between scenes is excellent. The three women end with a brief epilogue in rhyme that takes us back full circle to where the play started. We are reminded of a number of things in this collection of cautionary tales. Right will always triumph over might, just as a good heart will inevitably shine through and we learn that none of us, least of all a Witch in a cave, can exist without love. The next time you fancy a transformation or change of any description take care with what you might wish for!
Photo credit: Chris Best