Show: The Last Witch
Venue: Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Date: 19th September 2018
Director: Richard Baron
Writer: Rona Munro
Cast: Deirdre Davis (Janet Horne), Fiona Wood (Helen Horne), Graham Mackay-Bruce (Niall), David Rankine (Captain David Ross), Helen Logan (Elspeth Begg), Alan Steele (Douglas Begg), & Alan Mirren (Nick)
I read the playscript of The Last Witch by Rona Munro earlier this month in anticipation of seeing this production. I adored reading it, and am pleased to say that I enjoyed watching it on stage just as much. I was delighted to see that the production was very faithful to Munro’s original script, preserving its wealth of emotional impact and thematic nuance.
Plot-wise, the play is a dramatization of the story of Janet Horne, the last woman to be executed as a witch in Scotland, 1727. We follow Janet, a brilliantly well-realised and complex character, as she does what is necessary to get by, and protect her disfigured daughter, Helen. She comes in to conflict with the rural parish’s new sheriff following an accusation of witchcraft from a neighbour disgruntled by her strange behaviour and eccentric ways. What ensues is a game of wits, a struggle for power between the sexes, and a look at the reasons why a woman may want to have others believe she is a powerful witch.
There is a brooding and ominous atmosphere throughout, and though it is punctuated by moments of black humour, it culminates in a powerful, rousing climax. All of this was convincingly brought to life by the cast of seven, with particular praise owed to Deirdre Davis for her performance as Janet; she is able to capture moments of wit, anguish, and poignancy with equal vigour and charisma.
The striking set design, and clever use of light and sound, further enhanced the impact and general mood of the show, making it one of my favourite theatre experiences for some time. If the show tours following its residency at the theatre in the hills, or another production of The Last Witch comes your way, I highly recommend checking it out. It is historic fiction at its best; immersive enough to evoke times gone by, and yet relevant enough that it can still resonate with a modern audience.