JANE WENHAM: THE WITCH OF WALKERN
by Rebecca Lemkiewicz.
Palace Theatre 20 Clarendon Road WD17 1JZ To 3 October.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01923 225671.
then Tour 6 October-14 November 2015.
then Arcola Theatre (Studio 1) 24 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL 5-30 January 2016.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Runs: 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 September.
Rewarding investigation of witchcraft allegations.
Queen Anne was still alive in 1712; thank goodness, for Jane Wenham’s sake. Thankfully, too, Bishop Hutchinson, recuperating from responsibilities in Ireland, was around the village of Walkern, near Stevenage in Hertfordshire. Old enough to have lived through Witch trials and executions, his rationality defends Jane – a lone old woman gathering herbs who doesn’t quite fit society, so must be in league with the diabolic.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz locates the devil within us, as our disruptive desires. Even zealous young cleric Samuel Crane – rescued from being simply prejudiced and stubborn in pursuing suspects by the intelligence and moral purpose Tim Delap finds in the character – isn’t immune as he uses religious language to pursue his passion for Widow Higgins, the alehouse keeper.
Desire snakes round this village, in an age when the Enlightenment’s reasoned clarity was about to be added to the scientific approach to Nature. But superstition, often fear-based and wary of anything, or anyone, different from common ways or what was approved by church or state, remained prevalent. And old Jane, living alone among nature’s herbal remedies, was ready-to-hand as scapegoat for unexplained sickness or disasters.
Lenkiewicz only closes in on her slowly. At first, Amanda Bellamy’s Jane works quietly on the ground some way from the forbidding gallows where a just-executed body should have cleansed the parish of witchery. But the hanging-post stays. And by the time it looms over Jane as she’s put on trial, human desire has committed its offences. Not only young Crane, aided by the ‘pricker’ whose tests carry the force of scientific proof – if a prick produces no blood, it’s the sign of a witch (if it does, it means death by blood-loss anyway; but you can’t defy science).
Even the enlightened Hutchinson’s desire for the young Caribbean woman he keeps as his servant leads him to prevent her leaving as she’d like. With no means of support she accepts this as part of the deal, but it would have an uglier name today. Cat Simmons expresses her resigned frustration admirably, while Ria Parry’s production engages all the elements of this rich drama.
Francis Hutchinson/Saul Paterson: David Acton.
Jane Wenham: Amanda Bellamy.
Priddy Goodstern: Judith Coke.
Samuel Crane: Tim Delap.
Ann Thorn: Hannah Hutch.
Fergal McGuire/The Pricker: Andrew Macklin.
Bridget Hurst/Widow Higgins: Rachel Sanders.
Kemi Martha: Cat Simmons.
Director: Ria Parry.
Designer: James Button.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound/Composer: Max Pappenheim.
Dialect coach: Kat Hicks.
Puppet Designer/Director: Matt Hutchinson.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.
Dramaturg: Nina Steiger.
14 Oct 7.30pm Public Hall Witham 0345 0178717 www.withampublichall.co.uk
15 Oct 7.30pm Felsted School Dunmow 01371 822619.
16 Oct 7.30pm Ormiston Academy Sudbury (The Curve) 01473 211498 www.easternangles.co.uk
17 Oct 3pm & 7.30pm Woodbridge Community Hall 01473 211498 www.easternangles.co.uk
21-24 Oct 7.45pm Mat Thu 2pm; Sat 2.30pm West Yorkshire Playhouse (Courtyard Theatre) Leeds 0113 213 7700 www.wyp.org.uk
27-31 Oct Tue; Thu-Sat 7.30pm Wed 5.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm; Sat 2pm Everyman Theatre Liverpool 0151 709 4776 www.everymanplayhouse.com
3-7 Nov 8pm Mat Thu 1pm; Sat 2.30pm BSL Signed Thu 8pm* Tobacco Factory Theatre Bristol 0117 902 0344 www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com
10-14 Nov 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm Salisbury Playhouse 01722 320333 www.salisburyplayhouse.com
*check in advance with ticket office.