Newton's Cauldron

Mon 4th – Sun 17th August 2014

reviews

Alex Woolley

at 22:11 on 9th Aug 2014

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A play about witches and Isaac Newton: not exactly topics that tend to go together, are they? The strangeness of this combination is, of course, what makes Newton's Cauldron so much fun, and, indeed, so side-wrackingly funny.

In lurid green light, amid cauldron and spell book, sisters Wendy and Wombat, who are witches, receive a prophecy that a child will be born (cue laughter -- the play is set on Christmas day) that will destroy all magic, thereby ushering in a new age of scientific enlightenment. The siblings set in motion increasingly fantastic schemes aimed at killing Newton before he can grow up and put an end to sorcery. It is no plot-spoiler to reveal that Wendy and Wombat do not achieve this goal.

One of the strengths of the script, which is newly written by recent St Andrew's graduate and Soho Young Writer Tim Foley, lies in the richness of the world he creates. "Wibbles" is an excellent name for a witch-possessed cat; Newton, in his room, is said to be listening to "Pachelbel or Katy Perry, whatever the kids are listening to these days;" the denouement of the plot is tied up with the coin at the centre of the witches' Christmas pudding.

Foley clearly also has a talent for humorous writing -- the audience were frequently guffawing, which is more than can be said of all stand-up at the Fringe, let alone comic plays. Cara Mahoney, playing Wombat, and Emma Taylor, playing Wendy, do very well at bringing out the laughs.

The script is more limited when it comes to relationships between characters. That between the sisters is a little unoriginal. As Wombat herself says, big sisters are mean to little sisters, and so Wombat is duly mean to Wendy. There is tenderness between the two characters, too, but, again, this is hardly surprising for two siblings. As if in an attempt to round out the sorceresses, their absent mother is often mentioned, but not quite enough details are given to make this a sufficiently satisfying way of bringing Wendy and Wombat to life.

A play about witches and Isaac Newton will always be absurd. Foley's talent is in ensuring this absurdity is genuinely hilarious and in creating a fantasy world replete with gorgeous details. He will be a very impressive writer when he manages to round out his characters to a similar extent.

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Rob Collins

at 11:22 on 10th Aug 2014

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Newton’s Cauldron was a mysteriously challenging show, seemingly unclear about what type of production it wanted to be. There is undoubtedly a mystical feel to the piece, enhanced by the choice of venue, an intimate, if slightly eerie one. The set is very simple; small and sinister, it evokes the sense of a children’s bedtime story. From the off, there is a frantic energy to the production with the opening monologue setting the tone for the show.

The play follows the exploits of two witches, played superbly by Cara Mahoney and Emma Taylor, who having foreseen the birth of Isaac Newton attempt to kill the child before he can destroy magic with his discoveries. The opening of the show ambles along with a quirky cheekiness, drawing the audience into what must be called a fairly contrived plot. Yet this is forgiven both by the tongue in cheek writing and the raw energy of the cast. There is comedy aplenty here and whilst this ranges from fairly obvious gags about invisibility, (having cast such a spell the witches can’t find their broom, get it?) to more subtle gags covering the internet and cat flaps, one can’t help but be draw in by the actors' spirit.

However, if you are expecting a leisurely jaunt through children’s show clichés then think again. The power of this show comes from the ambiguity of the mood it creates. On the one hand we are presented with a childlike story, yet on the other, serious issues are covered. What was particularly impressive about this production was the way the actors managed to mix the fantastical plot with a more serious subplot covering family issues. Tim Foley’s writing must be commended.

Cara Mahoney’s performance as Wendy imbued both a loving naivety and real depth to the character, whilst Emma Taylor was outstanding as Wombat bringing a commanding clarity to the role. Indeed Taylor’s monologue covering the death of the sister’s mother was impressively poignant.

That being said there are some weaker points to the play. At times the energy dissolved into a frantic-ness that meant that we, the audience, were left playing catch up. Before the last scene the focus in the writing wavered a little. The blackouts in between scenes also stifled the flow of the show. However, this was rescued by the final section that was both feel-good and touching, helped by a sparkling turn from Cara Mahoney.

In short, whilst a little confused about what kind of show it wants to be, Newton’s Cauldron is a fun watch and a show with sincerity, comedy and heart in equal measure.

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