Rehearsing Roald Dahl – with Nikolai Foster

Roald Dahl’s scariest book, The Witches, comes to life at Wyvern Theatre this March in a brand new family-friendly production and we’re dying to find out more… Inside Swindon Theatres interrupted rehearsals for a quick chat with the show’s Director, Nikolai Foster.

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Roald Dahl’s work must feature highly in the canon of great children’s literature; how hard was it to get the rights to an all new production of The Witches?

It was a flat no to begin with, but as I’d worked on a production of James and The Giant Peach and we’re working with David Wood, who has adapted a lot of work for young people, I think that opened the door for us. I had to plead and beg and then when they said yes I was thrilled.

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“…at its heart is the message that as long as we have love then nothing else matters.”

Dahl’s work can be quite sinister…

Kids get a very specific experience out of seeing a play like The Witches and it speaks to their parents as well because the themes are universal. They transcend age really, as Dahl was writing for both adults and children.

It is admittedly quite a dark piece, but at its heart is the message that as long as we have love then nothing else matters. It’s a beautiful moral and a beautiful tale to be telling at this time year, when families and many different people who don’t normally come to our theatre do come and see us. For some this will be there very first theatre experience which makes it all the more exciting.

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What can you tell us about the world you’re creating in The Witches

Well, as the story changes location a lot; we’re on a boat, we’re in a ballroom, there’s a scene on a sea front in Bournemouth and there’s even a scene in Norway, so to make all of that work we’ve created a really wacky, disjointed environment where anything can happen. We’ve also been thinking about who these witches are and mashed up timescales a bit. When the witches are in their everyday life, trying to hide the fact that they’re witches, they’re dressed like American housewives, very prim and proper suburban women. But when they reveal themselves as witches we were inspired by the likes of Vivienne Westwood; a bit punky and lots of fun! The music reflects that too with Dougal Vine having created a sort of Ska/Madness sound for the mad, disjointed world we’ve created.

So the show will feature some songs as well?

Some of Roald Dahl’s rhymes have been set to music and Dougal’s written a lovely song that is sung at the end, so although it’s not a musical there are some songs and most of our actors can play instruments, so it’s very lively on stage!

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I heard that there is some magic on stage too?

Yes that’s right. The wonderfully talented Neil Henry has designed all of our tricks and effects; you may even see someone disappear in front of you and there’s a marvellous mouse circus he’s helped us with, although I can’t tell you how he does it; I’ve been sworn to secrecy!

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Roald Dahl’s The Witches runs at Wyvern Theatre from Tue 1- Sat 5 March 2016. For more information and tickets see: http://bit.ly/TheWitches_Swindon

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