Musical that will ‘blow their socks off’ is not for the faint-hearted

Devilishly debonair Darryl Van Horne (John Knox) with (from left) witches Claire Withnell as Alexandra Spofford Hannah Easton as Suki Rougemont and Siobhan Smith as Jane Smart.
Devilishly debonair Darryl Van Horne (John Knox) with (from left) witches Claire Withnell as Alexandra Spofford Hannah Easton as Suki Rougemont and Siobhan Smith as Jane Smart.

Our reporter made his excuses and left, right after the Devil suggested to the lady: “Cigarette?”.

Old Nick had just performed a very spirited duet with one of the main female characters, and delivered this one-word verbal punctuation mark with commendably Mephistophilean timing.

We’re not allowed to tell you what happened immediately before this climactic first-half moment in a production which is very different from anything Linlithgow Amateur Musical Productions have done in the past.

But we can say that anyone expecting a jolly sing-along sort of evening, full of heartwarming and wholesome moments, can forget it. The Witches of Eastwick is not that kind of show.

LAMP’s daring foray into the devilish detail of small town angst is only homely in the sense of “Stepford Wives” – about as far from classic amateur musical fare as it’s legally possible to get.

The Witches of Eastwick is well-known from stage and film, but veteran director Sandy Queenan says one of the main attractions of producing this version was that it’s not an “off the shelf” musical – like, say, Oklahoma – leaving plenty of room for artistic creativity and carefully-fashioned surprises.

“This has been a brilliant production to be involved with, “ he says, “and everyone is giving it 100 per cent – it’s ‘different’, exciting, and full of challenges.”

LAMP’s productions are must-see events, whatever the musical, but it’s hard to think of anything – except, just maybe, West Side Story – which is so near the knuckle but (in this case) in a way that only the most saintly maiden aunts could find offensive.

The casting seems superb, with Beelzebub (“Darryl van Horne” ) played by – of all the names imaginable – John Knox.

The female main roles are Hannah Easton as Suki Rougemont, Siobhan Smith as Jane Smart, and Claire Withnell as Alexandra Spofford.

Quite apart from the considerable “nudge nudge, wink wink” element of the script they all deliver fine performances, and with surprisingly convincing classic American accents.

This week’s rehearsal had plenty of the sort of artistic tension you expect at such a pivotal moment in a production, but it never got in the way of the fun.

The devilish sense of humour which runs seemingly spontaneously throughout the whole production is possibly its most attractive feature – that and some truly impressive singing, both solo and in chorus.

Chatting with some of the players enjoying “a breath of fresh air” during the interval we were told: “If you thought that was racy, just wait till you see the second half – it will blow their socks off!”

We’re told that rather than get all the costumes from a theatrical hire firm (then find all the usual problems with fitting) the cast were given a budget to buy their own gear.

“The girls had a lot of fun doing online shopping and so forth to get their outfits,” said Sandy, “and in a way this helped them to create their own characters.

“Everything about this production has been ‘a bit different’, and everyone involved has been caught up in the effort to bring it to life.”

Minimalist sets don’t mean dull performances, and some of the tricks used to create the “special effects” for this production deserve special recognition.

The preview rehearsal was staged in Linlithgow’s Masonic Hall, a functional venue devoid of any atmospheric flourishes. Phones were “pretend” and a bottle of Martini was played by a plastic bottle of the other national drink.

But perhaps even because this was “just the performance” – albeit with costumes – the dramatic effect was never less than powerful.

When translated to the stage it’s surely going to be nothing short of memorable. One minor mystery – how to make people fly – has been solved in a particularly cunning way. Sandy Queenan says: “For a big West End production you#’d expect people to actually fly about the stage, which means using wires. “Apart from anything else that sort of arrangement would push insurance costs through the roof – and for an amateur theatre group it’s not a realistic proposition”.

Instead he’s come up with an arguably ingenious solution which in some ways is possibly even more effective than the “wire-guided Peter Pan” method familiar to generations of pantomime fans – but a bit well-worn nowadays.

We’re told the stage sets are kept simple, because there are a lot of twists and turns to the plot which make for frequent changes of scene – but that just puts more emphasis on the sharply-drawn characters.

Is there any sympathy for the Devil at the end? Buy a ticket and decide for yourself.

The show is at Linlithgow Academy Theatre from October 17 - 22, and tickets are £10 (two for one on Monday), and £12 on the Saturday: to book, phone the ticket hotline on 07949 475932 or email linlithgow-musicals.co.uk.

You can also get a 10 per cent discount on food if you pre-book, at either the Ashmaan Tandoori or the Star and Garter. All performances start at 7.30pm.