Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Martin Gray
Roger Knowles and Thomas Potts are on a mission. As magistrates in 1608, it’s their job to keep the king’s peace and the biggest threat in Lancashire is witches. Spreading fear among the country people, cursing, killing – who knows what they could do if left unchecked?
Proving a witch by torture no longer permitted, the God-fearing men need to gather evidence; testimony from those who suffer at the hands of the women and men who consort with Satan isn’t enough, they need proof. And one acceptable form is the confession of one witch against another.
Enter Jennet Device, daughter of Alison Device, granddaughter of Elizabeth Southerns – Old Demdike, the Irish crone who brings hell upon you and yours if you fail to pay her.
That set-up would be enough to make this new play from Dawn State Theatre Company worth a look; what elevates it is the decision to frame our viewing as a performance they’re taking around the countryside in 1615, with Knowles, Potts and the now-grown Jennet playing all the parts. And don’t these dignified Justices of the Peace, Monty Python-like, just love to play women? There’s a nice dose of humour in this production, but plenty of darkness too.
Amy Blair, Dan Nicholson and Christopher Birks give pitch-perfect performances, embracing the contemporary language of Gareth Jandrell’s script in director Dan Coleman’s beguilingly simple production.
They also apply gorgeous harmonies to hymns that sound so authentic I assumed they were traditional – in fact, they’re the work of Nicholson. Chilling and heartbreaking, this is the best kind of history lesson.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 30 August, 3:15pm / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 15 August 2015
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