The Last Witch, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Wednesday 26 August 2009
You're an evil stoat of a woman," complains Janet Horne's neighbour, who has accused her of witchcraft, "but you are an entertainment." Rona Munro's new play tells the story of the last Scottish witch-burning in 1727. Its debates on magic and power are rooted in the dynamics of a tiny, vividly drawn community.
Arms spread wide, Kathryn Howden's Janet promises to turn into a crow. As she spouts lyrically about transformation, her daughter, Helen, grumbles that there's no food, no fire, and no chance of getting them through magic. Hannah Donaldson's Helen is pragmatic, but she's also an embarrassed teenager, cringing at her mother's antics.
Most of Janet's witchcraft is in talking about it: she exerts power through hints and poetic evocations. When she's questioned by Captain David Ross, she won't confess to witchcraft, but can't lose face by admitting fakery. Ross attacks her harder because she has the power to seduce and insult him – and she can't resist proving it in public.
Ross's revenge is two-dimensional compared to this tight network of village relationships. He becomes a simpler figure as he turns on Janet. Munro's oppressive church and state remain sketchy, coming into focus only when she looks at its specific local impact. Janet is denied sleep to make her confess – which, in a community this small, means her neighbour has the job of keeping her awake. Munro's people don't foresee the consequences of their actions, but still have to live with them.
The Traverse Theatre Company's production is strongly cast. Despite some exaggerations, particularly in its projections of cawing crows, Dominic Hill's production is clear and well-paced.
To 29 August (0131 248 4848)
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 4 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
- 5 Zayn Malik quits One Direction: Hundreds of workers request compassionate leave following band member's exit
Jeremy Clarkson to host BBC's Have I Got News For You despite Top Gear exit
A historian gave the most British look of despair when someone screwed up Richard III's birthday at his reburial
Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
Kay Burley 'bias' against Ed Miliband prompts 130 complaints to Ofcom
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz wanted to 'do something people would remember him for'