Interview with Witches of Eastwick director

Emma Lee As the brand new stage version of the musical Witches of Eastwick wows its first audiences at the Norwich Theatre Royal, EMMA LEE speaks to the show’s director, Nikolai Foster.

Emma Lee

Take a devilishly handsome chart-topping star, three bewitching leading ladies and some wicked songs and what have you got?

Well, the team behind the new production of the Witches of Eastwick hope the potent concoction will leave audiences spellbound.

Starring Wet Wet Wet heart-throb Marti Pellow, the all-new version of the show had its premiere at the Norwich Theatre Royal at the weekend.

Based on the film, which starred Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Cher, Pellow stars as Daryl Van Horne.

When three desperate housewives in mid-town America wish for the man of their dreams, they get far more than they bargain for. All hell breaks loose, quite literally, when Van Horne arrives.

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Speaking to EDP2 before curtain up, the show's director, Nikolai Foster, said that he was looking forward to seeing months of hard work behind the scenes brought to life.

Usually touring productions arrive at the Theatre Royal a maximum of two days before opening night.

But because the Witches of Eastwick is a brand new show, a great coup for the venue, the technical team arrived more than a week in advance.

According to Nikolai, it's an exciting time when there's a real buzz in the air.

"The week before we open we have an enormous amount of stuff to prepare. It's really interesting for a director.

"You go through different stages. The rehearsals are really enjoyable. You get to play with the actors.

"And then when you add in the technical side, the light, the sound, the set and the costume, it re-forms the vision in 3D. It's a hell of a week - exhilarating, that's for sure," he says.

Born in Copenhagen, Nikolai grew up in North Yorkshire and trained at Drama Centre London and the Crucible in Sheffield.

His wide-ranging CV includes Shakespearean comedy, serious high-brow drama and musicals.

As an example of his versatility, alongside the Witches of Eastwick, he is also working on All the Fun of the Fair, a new musical based on the songs of David Essex (which will be calling at the Norwich Theatre Royal as part of its national tour) and George Orwell's Animal Farm for the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The Witches of Eastwick was originally staged in London's West End, at the Drury Lane Theatre then the Prince of Wales Theatre around eight years ago. And Nikolai says that they felt that the time was right for a revival.

"It originally ran in the West End for a couple of years, but it never quite worked. [Theatre impresario] Cameron Mackintosh always held it in great affection and it was always on the back burner to be produced again. And a tour is a great way to reintroduce it to the public," he says.

"About a year ago we started thinking about it and six months ago we started working on it properly."

The show has been tweaked to be more character-driven rather than concentrating on big ensemble musical numbers.

The Witches are played by Ria Jones, Rebecca Thornhill and Poppy Tierney

Ria said: "I'm really having fun. It's a real mix of a show with some funny moments and some really dark parts too.

"I have also really bonded with the other witches as well. It's a case of getting real strength from your best buddies and is just like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives."

When it came to the leading man, Pellow, Nikolai said that he was "always" his first choice.

Pellow, of course, is best known as the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet. The band formed in 1983 and was one of the most successful groups of the 80s and 90s.

The band has sold more than 15 million albums and garnered 26 UK top singles, including, at the time, the biggest-selling single in UK history, Love is All Around, which featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, and stayed at number one in the charts for a staggering 16 weeks.

Pellow has also played sell-out tours all over the world as a solo artist. His first solo album went straight into the Top 10 and since then all of his albums have achieved platinum status.

And his most recent release, Sentimental Me, which was inspired by playing at the famous Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, was released in April.

On stage, he's played Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago both in the West End and on Broadway and in May took the lead role of the Arbiter in Sir Tim Rice's musical Chess at the Royal Albert Hall.

"We're so lucky to have an actor of Marti Pellow's calibre and the fact that he wanted to do it is very exciting," Nikolai said.

"We met him a couple of years ago and we got on very well. It was a risk because he'd never really acted before, except Chicago.

"He's been quite a revelation. He's got instinct and courage and he's in danger of creating something really special. He's certainly got charm and sex appeal," Nikolai said.

The Witches of Eastwick is at the Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, September 6. For the latest availability phone 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.