Bell, Book and Candle

Pleasant romantic comedy missing magical spark, writes Anne-Marie Marquess

When a witch sets her sights on a mere mortal, the man doesn’t stand a chance, even if he is engaged to be married. In Bell, Book and Candle, New York socialite Gillian Holroyd plans to woo successful publisher Shep within the week, with or without the aid of spells or potions. Fuelled by green-eyed jealousy, Holroyd's supernatural powers work wonders until things start to get complicated with the introduction of a meddling aunt, a mischief making brother, and an author-cum-witchhunter who’s out to expose the magical goings on in 1950s high society Manhattan. 

The romantic comedy, Bell, Book and Candle is a pleasant adaptation of the popular play by award-winning playwright John Van Druten, a closet homosexual, in this case, writing about closet witches!

This version at the Baby Grand, was directed by Colin Carnegie and brought to us by the Centre Stage Theatre Company. Having watched the slick and stylish 1958 movie of the same name starring Kim Novak and James Stewart, and learning that it was this play that inspired the hit 1970s TV series Bewitched, I was preparing to be charmed.

The play opened with the female lead (Jojo Burdett) perched by the window in her New York apartment stroking her cat - not a black familiar or a prissy Persian, but a fluffy tabby. Not a real one, or indeed a realistic looking fake, but Pyewacket had his uses.

The set consisted of a backdrop of bookcases with an assortment of relics and ornaments, including candles that fail to ignite - much like the chemistry between our two main characters. But then the course of true love never did run smoothly. And when you know you’ve put a spell on someone and things could slip up at any time, it’s maybe not the best footing for a relationship.

The first character on-stage was Shep Henderson (Mark Claney), a jovial cross between the character Darren from Bewitched and the comic actor Jim Carrey, providing stark contrast to Gillian Holroyd, (Burdett) who weaves her magic to entice him into her world, her glittering eye make-up enhancing every glare, stare and delightfully dramatic expression.

Next is the awesome Aunt Queenie Holroyd (Roma Tomelty) who shines, sparkles and captivates with her array of flamboyant costumes and exuberant performance. The brother, Nicky Holroyd (Connor Morrison), a vibrant red-head, is terrifically upbeat and entertaining as a warlock that enjoys a good stir. When Mr Sydney Redlitch (Gordon Fulton) enters the room, he immediately injects his strong personality and comic ability - a truly superb character. He wears a black Russian hat and likes a good spirit, well to knock back anyway!

There could have been more of a bewitching ambience to the play. When spells are performed, perhaps a more dramatic or macabre atmosphere could have been conjured up through clever use of lighting, sound or special effects. I was never spooked, but then the magic of Bell, Book and Candle isn’t that of Charmed, Practical Magic or The Craft - it’s an elegant, upmarket, stylised form of witchcraft that tries to capture the class of an era gone by.

With all three acts taking place in an apartment, I would have welcomed a trip to the Zodiac Club - if only for a change of scenery. Taking a trip to the tantalising witches' den would have been an eye-opening diversion from our cosy quarters. Every time the bell went, I hoped we might get to venture outside. And there are plenty of bells in this play - door bells, signifying the arrival of each new character on stage and often ringing at intense moments. The telephone provides conversation with the characters we don’t see, such as Merle Kittredge, Gillian’s arch enemy and Shep’s doomed fiancé.

An exciting and contrasting cauldron of characters keep your interest simmering, as trouble is always brewing in Centre Stage’s colourful concoction. But was it potent enough or were some of the ingredients missing? Despite the terrific cast, the play failed to captivate. I wasn’t spellbound, spooked or even surprised, but I was entertained. Having seen the original movie and being a Bewitched fan, I was looking forward to watching this and it was enjoyable, but I felt it needed a little more, well, magic!