Review of ‘Bell, Book and Candle’: “It’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus”

John Van Drutten’s spellbinding comedy returns to London in a new production bringing back the charm and enchantment of its old-fashioned era. Guillermo Nazara reviews this classic currently playing at The Tabard until mid-March, to let us know which kind of curse has been cast on its montage.

Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen. No, it’s not that I’m speaking gibberish (well, you know what I mean…), it’s just that our fascination with witches, sorcery and all things magic never seems to end. Long gone are the days when we used to hang them or burn them at a stake (whew, those were the times…). For decades now, every moment we hear a Latin word, our inner wizard begins to fling their wand (it’s not what you’re thinking of…) in a hopeful attempt to conjure our own Expecto Patronum – please, JK, don’t sue me… and don’t tweet about me either!

John Van Druten may have not been the first one to clear the image of the formerly called servants of Satan, but he’s certainly been a great advocate for the cause (thank goodness, cause I couldn’t bear being stoned anymore – wait, maybe that’s not why they did it…). Perhaps better known for other works like his critically acclaimed play I Am A Camera (the foundation for the classic and immensely popular musical, Cabaret), Bell, Book and Candle is not an exemption to his list of stage hits, anyway- the piece being turned into a film starring James Stewart after its initial out-of-town and West End runs.

The reason why is not difficult to find: the play is actually quite good. Showcasing delightful light-hearted humour throughout a cheerful and entertaining romantic tale, both piece and montage succeed in delivering a feel-good vibe during the whole performance – wisely combining the nostalgic allure of an era we may have never lived in but still believe connected to, with the excitement of a dynamic well-crafted storyline. Relying on several subplots to boost an all in all fast-moving pacing, its gratefully written dialogue gives a new meaning to the term ‘charming’, encompassing in one performance every possible definition.

Such a sense of compliance between work and production comes from an obvious understanding of the piece’s heart and soul – a merit fairly credited to director Mark Giesser, but also (and mainly) to its brilliant cast. Starring Beth Burrows as the self-hating witch Gillian, her rendition provides her character with strength and charisma by, however, bringing out the honesty of her fragility. On the other side, Zoe Teverson, playing her sassy care-free aunt Miss Holroyd, makes a memorable impression thanks to the raw sassiness of her interpretation, while Daniel Breakwell as brother and nephew Nicholas (respectively… it’s not that kind of family…) also gives a mention-worthy portrayal thanks to his notable stage presence.

Constantly pulling from the strings of sentimentality in both intentional and unintentional ways, this show is a true treat to all those who long for those ‘simpler time’ shows that, despite its apparent gullibility, managed to touch more buttons than some of today’s over-complicated narratives. You can’t fight your own nature, says Gillian’s brother in response to her own unaccepting attitude. For sure, Van Druten knew what he was talking about… and also how to put a spell that still endures to this day.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

All pictures credited to Charles Flint.

Bell, Book and Candle plays at London’s Theatre at the Tabard until 15 May. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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