Bell Book & Candle review, Theatre at the Tabard

Image above: Beth Burrows and Edward Hayes-Neary in Bell, Book & Candle, Theatre at the Tabard

16 February – 11 March

Review by Simon Thomsett

John Van Druten’s play, Bell, Book and Candle was first seen on Broadway in 1950 and is now playing in a stylish revival at the Tabard Theatre. The action of the play is transposed to London: Gillian Holroyd lives alone in her cosy flat, hiding her powers as a witch from all but a close-knit coterie of fellow witches and warlocks, all living secret lives.

She confides in her Aunt Queenie that sometimes she has a yearning for the “ordinary and humdrum” life, shared by the “everyday people” and that she has taken a shine to her new neighbour, Tony who is oblivious to her charms.

Her plan to win Tony’s affection without recourse to magic is derailed when she discovers that he intends imminently to announce his engagement to Merle Kettridge, an old rival of Gillian’s.

Realising that she needs to move quickly, she decides to use her magic after all and puts a spell on Tony who immediately falls in love with her and unceremoniously dumps the unfortunate Merle.  Of course the path of true love is never smooth and we know that, one way or another, the truth will out.

Image above: Zoë Teverson and Edward Hayes-Neary in Bell, Book & Candle, Theatre at the Tabard

In an age when characters with supernatural powers dominate mainstream culture, a play like Bell, Book and Candle runs a risk of seeming quaint but director Mark Giesser ensures his cast wear their witchery lightly whilst keeping a mischievous glint in their eyes as they go about their sometimes distinctly dubious business; even Gillian’s feline familiar, Pyewacket manages a cheeky twitch of the ears when called upon to help with a spell.

As the pace picks up, the play fixes its focus on Gillian’s dilemma, she has won Tony’s heart but at what price? And how much can she be sure of his feelings, given her recourse to witchcraft to win him over?

As Gillian, Beth Burrows is exceptional, expressing her feelings with subtlety and wit as she journeys from yearning to despair when things starts to fall apart. She is onstage for almost the entire running time and brings an energy to the role which holds our attention throughout.

The production values at the Tabard remain as high as ever; the setting in Gillian’s apartment making maximum use of the space, with secrets hidden in the wall paintings and a pleasing attention to detail throughout.

Special mention should be made for the costume designs by Alice McNicholas which add a layer of magic of their own.  This classy production runs at the Tabard Theatre until 11 March and is well worth the visit.

Book tickets: tabard.org.uk

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