The Last Witch, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Zoë Anderson
Wednesday 26 August 2009 00:00
Comments

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)

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in