by Richard Shannon.
The Muni Albert Road BB8 0RY 10-14 July 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2pm
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 01282 661234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 July at Orange Tree Theatre Richmond.
Atmospheric revival of thoughtfully crafted play on the Lancashire witches story.
Though marketably subtitled ‘The trials of the Pendle Witches’, Richard Shannon’s 2009 play, revived part–recast by original director Amy Leach, never visits the court, while, of twenty accused, we only meet two.
What Shannon and Leach provide is a painstaking account of how the beliefs of a period combine with fears and disappointments to create demons. Here, it’s the loss at birth of the son local magistrate Robert Nowell has keenly awaited. Why is life so unjust? His wife cannot be to blame. It must be the midwife Alice. It then takes only the lightest of circumstances to impound her, along with the crazed young Jennet.
It’s right this takes time, events gradually forcing Nowell’s mind towards his conclusion. His wife temporarily rejects Alice, but by the time the midwife’s arrested is firmly on her side. Alice herself moves from upright confidence to demoralisation and fear. From happy member of the community she becomes someone alone and close to despair. When the meat-hooks looming overhead finally descend, as Alice and Jennet put representative clothing on them, to be hoist and hanged midair, the death sentence mixes with social rejection.
Robert Calvert’s powerful figure is mentally and physically hurt by his sufferings, while Hannah Emanuel gives his wife youthful energy and anxiety as she sees, incredulously, her husband’s behaviour. Among the accused, there could hardly be a greater contrast than between Christine Mackie’s sensible Alice and Nisa Cole’s wild beggar Jennet, whose claims of a diabolic familiar seem clear hysterical attention-seeking nowadays. Cole’s wild energy sets her apart, as does the non-White casting, in which she follows the part’s creator Amaka Okafor, (subsequently, an outstanding member of London Unicorn’s ensemble).
First seen in the Duke’s Round auditorium, the production tours other theatres-in-the-round. Even at Richmond, the smallest space, Miriam Naburro’s set gives some sense of a small community. With the full set restored in Colne’s arena, the production, with John Biddle’s instrumental and vocal score, will breathe the spirit of the northern hills and a 400 year old world different from our own, yet similar in the essential workings of the human mind.
Roger Nowell: Robert Calvert.
Jennet Preston: Nisa Cole.
Judith Nowell: Hannah Emanuel.
Alice Nutter: Christine Mackie.
Director: Amy Leach.
Designer: Miriam Nabarro.
Lighting: Brent Lees.
Music: John Biddle.