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)
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 2 Fifa corruption: Europe plots to stage an 'alternative World Cup' in place of Russia 2018
- 3 How much sex should I be having?
- 4 Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
- 5 Betting company 'refuse to pay' after student wins £1,000 from 50p bet on Roger Federer
The 1975 leave social-media after tweeting cryptic comic strip hinting at break up
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Winner Matisse had secret dog double, says owner Jules O'Dwyer
Britain's Got Talent 2015 final: Vote reveals Jules O'Dwyer beat Jamie Raven by just 2% despite using 'stunt dog double'
Top Gear to follow Have I Got News For You format with 'different host for each episode'
Britain's Got Talent final 2015: Ofcom receives 90 complaints about Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden's 'revealing dresses'
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history