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Witches' brew has all the right ingredients

Imagine you are casting a spell to create the perfect children's books. What would you need? You might start with a base of some Enid Blyton, sprinkle liberally with Harry Potter, add a pinch of Just William and garnish with the witch from Snow White. And hey presto - in a flash of light, Jill Murphy's enduring Worst Witch series would appear.

Centred around the adventures of the haphazard novice witch Mildred Hubble (Danielle Bird) and her schoolmates at Miss Cackle's Academy, the stories have delighted young readers since they first appeared on bookshelves in 1974.

Now it's the turn of theatre-goers to share in the magic, thanks to a new production by the Royal and Derngate.

This slick production sparkled from the outset, thanks to polished performances from Bird and the all-female ensemble.

Of particular note was Rachel Heaton as severe deputy head Miss Hardbroom, and Rosie Abraham as malevolent school bully Ethel Hallow.

Meanwhile the onstage band added an enchanting dose of girl power with their 90s indie-esquire soundtrack. Witching has never been so rock and roll since Jarvis Cocker fronted The Weird Sisters in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.

The music wasn't the only aspect of the show given a modern twist. I and my two young companions loved the feminist subtext, all the more poignant in this post Me Too world. 'Chanting is not about showing off,' says music mistress Miss Batt (Molly Grace-Cutler). 'Chanting is about together magnifying the power of witches.'

Miss Cackle's evil megalomaniac twin Agatha (Polly Lister) plays her part as demented a Theresa May- Donald Trump hybrid, pledging to 'take back control and make witching great again'.

Once again, director Theresa Heskins seizes the opportunity to deliver a valuable lesson about diversity and opportunity as Mildred, fighting for the right for non-magical students to attend the school, declares: 'If I can be a witch, anyone can!' The words 'magical' and 'politics' are not usually juxtaposed, but in this show they are perfect bedfellows.

Special mention must also be made of the set by designer Simon Daws, which never fails to amaze with its ingenuity. Looking like a silhouette of a child's haunted house drawing, the effect is that of a Tim Burton skyline suspended underneath a silver moon.

Overall, this show is a perfect half term treat for all small witches and wizards and their families. Simply spellbinding.

Shows at 2pm and 7pm: Tickets: Adults: £21.75 & £23.75 Kids: £16.75 & £18.75 Family Tickets: £67.

Picture: Manuel Harlan

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