This new production of the musical version of John Updike’s novel The Witches of Eastwick is a tauter, sharper-focused variation on the original London production eight years ago. Although greater weight is now laid on the individual characters, it is lavishly and very effectively staged.

We’re in a close-knit New England town some fifty-odd years ago. Its mother hen is briskly freezing out any non-conformists – and that includes three women whose lives don’t quite fit her idea of normal. Enter a raffish wealthy stranger, and the scene is set for a diabolical upset.

It’s all beautifully designed by Peter McKintosh with two-dimensional clapboard houses, deceptively bright costumes for the townsfolk and some brilliant lighting effects from Guy Hoare. Choreographer Geoffrey Garrett has a field-day with dances varying from hoe-down to boogie with an archetypical dream ballet sequence thrown in for good measure.

Marti Pellow as Darryl Van Horne draws the audience as well as the women on stage under his spell with a finely-balanced performance which seems quite deliberately to not-quite hide the horns and cloven hooves under the lively gyrations and come-hither charm. It’s a characterisation which brims over with diabolical energy.

That’s matched by the performances of the three women he draws into his poisoned web. Ria Jones as Alex, lone mother obsessed by her imagined unattractiveness, Rebecca Thornhill as Sukie, the cub reporter with little future, and Poppy Tierney as Jane, the musically frustrated schoolmarm all-but dominate the action. Their transformation first into seductive objects of male desire, then into avenging harpies and lastly into accepted members of the community ring true.

Director Nikolai Foster gives a proper space to the townsfolk as well. Joanna Kirkland and Chris Thatcher are charming as the young love interests while Rachel Izen’s domineering Felicia and James Graeme as the worm of a husband who turns give something better than mere cameo performances. It is when their relationship finally breaks that the darkness to which the witch games have led finally breaks in.

This a show with real tunes by Dana P Rowe as well as action and mystery. Musical director Tom Deering keeps the balance between letting us hear the words and just sitting back to enjoy the sound very skilfully; the performers are exceptionally well mic’d. All in all, it’s an evening of pleasure, a real sweet-and-sour confection.

– Anne Morley-Priestman