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Bell, Book and Candle

by on 22 February 2023

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Bell, Book and Candle

by John Van Druten

Alces Productions and Take Note Theatre at The Tabard Theatre, Chiswick until 11th March

Review by Lottie Walker

Nostalgia is big news at the moment.  We seem to be seeking comfort in the less complicated, in a past that we view through rose tinted spectacles; so this trip back to the mid-20th century promised a real treat of escapism.  However, the concern with a play such as Bell Book and Candle, written in 1950, is that it is not quite old enough to be a period drama, but is possibly so old it can appear dated.  This co-production of Alces Productions and the Tabard’s own Take Note Theatre falls into the trap of not being able to make its mind up whether it is a parody or straight revival.  It has been directed as a semi-pastiche.  If only director Mark Giesser had had the courage of his convictions and gone for a full on parody, we might be looking at the next big thing to transfer to the West End.  As it is we are left in a twilight world of semi-stylised performances that serve to accentuate how dated the play actually is, rather than sending themselves up. 

The publicity for this production makes much of the fact that the play was the inspiration for the 1960’s TV series Bewitched.  The premise of both is that a family of witches are living mundane lives in suburbia and bringing out their magic tricks to solve everyday problems.  And there the similarities end.  Whereas Bewitched was witty and had the advantage of studio special effects and a thirty-minute episode format, by comparison the original play is just that little bit too long and too wordy and much of its wit has been lost to the mists of time, although it still has some magic moments (pun intended) and got some big laughs from a very enthusiastic audience.

The original cast (in both London and Broadway) was led by real life married couple Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer who were joined by a real life cat.  Without genuine chemistry between the characters of Gillian Holroyd and Anthony Henderson the play will always struggle and there was an element of trying too hard from both Beth Burrows as Gillian and Edward Hayes-Neary as Henderson, who were not quite believable as a couple. 

Burrows has the most difficult job onstage – and she is onstage for the majority of the play.  Not only does she have to be believable in a pretty unbelievable role, but she also has to share the stage with a scene stealing stuffed cat.  She does a good job on the whole of holding the piece together.   Daniel Breakwell eschewed louche young man of the post-war era, in favour of high camp to portray Gillian’s brother Nicholas and Richard Lynson takes on the thankless role of author Sidney Redlitch with enthusiasm.  The cast is completed by Zoe Teverson who shines in the role of eccentric and irreverent Aunt Queenie.

The play benefits from simple but effective design and the elegance of the period is demonstrated in the execution of both set (Intellectual Propery) and costume (Alice McNicholas) design. 

Overall Bell Book and Candle makes for a nice evening out.  It looks beautiful and is good old fashioned entertainment.  Possibly a little too old fashioned, but entertainment nonetheless.

Lottie Walker, February 2023

Photography by Charles Flint

From → Drama, Tabard Theatre

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