While Birmingham Rep has been forced to prematurely end its studio production of Behzti, the so-called “anti-Sikh” play which sparked off a riot at the weekend (See Today’s Other News), it has secured a further life down south for its main-house production of The Witches.

After it finishes its Christmas run at Birmingham - where its Saturday evening performance was cancelled along with Behzti’s when the entire theatre was evacuated - the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved children’s book will embark on a five-month UK tour (See News, 16 Sep 2004). Just announced, the schedule will now include a limited five weeks in the West End. It will run from 9 March to 2 April (previews from 3 March) at Wyndham’s Theatre, starring comedian and TV presenter Ruby Wax (pictured) as the repulsive Grand High Witch.

The Witches follows the adventures of a seven-year-old boy and his somewhat-magical grandmother who battle with real-life witches, led by the most powerful villainess of them all, the Grand High Witch. Hoping to rid England of children, she plans to take over the sweet shops, poison the chocolate and turn the children into mice. The production is suitable for seven years and above.

A loud-mouthed American who has lived in the UK for many years, Wax is best known for her various chat shows Ruby, Hot Wax and Ruby Wax Meets..., in which her renowned celebrity interviews have included the Duchess of York (who she famously locked out of her own home), Imelda Marcos, Roseanne Barr, Donald Trump and Liza Minnelli and David Guest. She co-wrote and appeared in the TV sitcom Girls on Top with Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French and, more recently, reached the final of reality TV’s Celebrity Fame Academy. On stage, she has performed for the Royal Shakespeare Company and mounted her own solo West End show Wax Acts, directed by Alan Rickman.

The Witches is adapted by David Wood, who has also adapted Dahl’s The BFG, The Twits and James and the Giant Peach. It’s directed by Rep artistic director Jonathan Church and designed by Simon Higlett with illusions by Paul Kieve and choreography by Jenny Arnold.

In addition to Wax (in London only), the cast features stage veteran Dilys Laye (My Fair Lady, The Secret Garden, Nine) as the grandmother as well as Giles Cooper, Isabel Ford, Chris Hawley, James Hirst, Peter Holdway, Katerina Jugati, Camilla Mathias, Keith Saha and Catherine Skinner.

The Witches runs at Birmingham Rep until 8 January 2005 and then tours, from 17 January to 26 June, to Richmond, Salford, Brighton, Cardiff, Stoke, Nottingham, London’s West End, Wimbledon, Southampton, Plymouth, Woking, Norwich, Oxford, Wolverhampton, Milton Keynes, Glasgow and Bromley. It’s presented by the David Wood Company and Ambassador Theatre Group in association with Birmingham Rep.

Currently at Wyndham’s, the production of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats, starring Hollywood actress Holly Hunter, is due to finish its limited season on 26 January 2005.

- by Terri Paddock