Review: The Witches of Eastwick, Burnley Mechanics

Witches of Eastwick
Witches of Eastwick
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You will have a devil of a job to find a better show than “The Witches Of Eastwick” at Burnley Mechanics this week.

It’s got great music, three sexy witches, magic tricks, sparkling stage effects and of course the Devil himself. A winning concoction of a show that is enthralling and entertaining while also being slightly shocking. Which, I imagine, is just as director Anthony Williams intended in this Burnley Light Opera Society production.

This is the musical comedy version of the feature film starring Jack Nicholson, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer and it opened to a virtually full house at the Mechanics on Saturday night.

When three bored friends in the small American town of Eastwick yearn for a man to brighten up their lives, they get the Devil himself in the form of the demonic Darryl Van Horne. And the all-American girls soon come under his spell and transform into three lustful witches, all sexy, sensual and selfish.

But, when a life of wanton debauchery and alienation from the whole town leads to tragedy, the girls decide to re-evaluate their lives and try to free themselves from the Devil’s spell. And their thoughts turn to revenge when he finds a new, younger prey to nurture. He finally receives his comeuppance - with a sting in the tail - as the show reaches its climax.

It is sensational with a capital S and outrageous with a capital O.

And it is all down to the director refusing to cut any corners. If it’s good enough for Hollywood, it’s good enough for Burnley, so wehave flying witches, fireworks, magic and trickery, cellos that play themselves and all within a set that is really stunning.

But, most importantly, it is down to a cast of amateurs that give the professional actors in the film version a real run for their money.

I couldn’t decide who was the most impressive –the electrifyingly evil Darryl Van Horne played outstandingly by BLOS newcomer Ian Bennett or the three witches, Vicki Stott, Leanne Tempest and Sophie Lord.

Quite simply, they were all great. Word perfect, note perfect and with first-class acting.

Ian was so realistic that his terrifying spine chilling laugh will stay with me. And, thanks to the make-up and wardrobe department, he looked the part, frighteningly so. He strutted around the stage like he owned it and when he hit town everyone knew about it. So good that you couldn’t help loving to hate him – if you see what I mean!

And then the girls – what vixens they were! Sassy, sexy, with no holds barred in their most explicit scenes .

BLOS has a real wealth of talent and with newcomer to the threesome Leanne joining the cast they were, quite literally, bewitching. Well done to the technical team for the scene when the three witches are flying - superb.

An opening night usually has the odd hitch or problem, but there was none of it on Saturday and these girls were a joy to watch. They had a real rapport and were very believable, right down to the accents.

The strength of this show is also down to a strong, professional chorus who backed up the principals pefectly and it would be remiss of me not to mention the wonderful Joanne Gill. She played the strong role of self-appointed town head and all-round know-it-all Felicia Gabriel wonderfully well. She was quite hilarious as she tried, unsuccessfully, to do battle with the Devil in the form of Van Horne, who stole the home of her dreams and her crown, until she and her husband Clyde, a great twosome with Geoff Baron, both came to an untimely end. Jenny Gill and Adam Whittle were also terrific as the lovelorn teenagers who also come under the spell of Van Horne. But no-one could be faulted in this whole cast who have worked tirelessly for months to bring this show to the stage.

Jonathan Chalker is musical director and led an expert band of musicians who really did justice to this show.

“The Witches Of Eastwick” is black humour at its best but may not be everyone’s cup of tea as it is very risque with adult scenes and some bad language. But Saturday night’s audience loved it and gave the cast a huge ovation.

In his programme notes, director Anthony Williams said he had rarely enjoyed directing a show as much as he had with this one and it showed throughout the production. He brought together a first-class cast and musicians and a stage team led by Ken Hardwick who put together something quite extraordinary.

The town’s amateur theatre has seen nothing like “Witches” before and it has certainly broken new ground. Burnley Light Opera Society have begun to veer towards more modern musicals in recent years with “La Cage Aux Folles” and “Copacabana” but “The Witches of Eastwick” could be said to take it to a whole new level.

It continues until Saturday at Burnley Mechanics. Callthe Box Office on 664400.

• Society chairman Colin Sanderson (83) is in Blackburn Royal Hospital undergoing tests after being taken ill on Sunday morning. He was thrilled with the success of opening night and had been looking forward to Sunday’s dinner show, but is determined to be back before “Witches” ends its run. Everyone wishes him well.