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.
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