Jane Wenham: The Witch Of Walkern

Produced by Eastern Angles & Out Of Joint
Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Directed by Ria Parry
Liverpool Everyman
27th October - 31st October 2015

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Let's get the joke I made at the Everyman out the way before I write the review!

I asked one of the ushers, in regard to the five female characters in the play, "Which is witch?"

The story concerns the hysteria surrounding the witch-hunts of the early 18th century. Women were accused of being witches on often very flimsy evidence, with the church in particular unsparing in its hatred of practitioners of witchcraft.

The main forms of execution were the ducking stool, being burnt at the stake or, as with the case with Eleanor Thorn, the mother of Ann Thorn (Hannah Hutch), being hung.

Thorn is seen grieving in the opening scenes. She is no angel. She enjoys the sexual company of men and has no shame about this.

All the five women in the eight member cast excel. Also notable is Widow Higgins (Rachel Sanders), the owner of an alehouse, where soldiers passing through always visit and frequently fight among themselves.

Also worthy of praise is folk healer Jane Wenham (Amanda Bellamy), who acts as a confidant to Ann in her troubled times, but is then cast aside by her after Jane attacks her in a fit of rage.

Jane is suspected of being a witch by the newly appointed ultra-religious parson Samuel Crane (Tim Delap), who does not appear to have an ounce of humanity or compassion in his body. He strongly believes that so-called witchcraft is a grave sin against God.

On the other hand the Bishop of the parish of Walkern (located in Hertfordshire), Francis Hutchinson (David Acton), is very sceptical that witches even exist and is dismayed by the putting to death of Eleanor Thorn.

For some unknown reason many of the women accused of fomenting witchcraft were elderly but often practised herbalism and were frequently midwives.

Away from the madness of humanity you could often hear the murmurings of birdsong and other sounds of nature.

Playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz deserves a lot of praise for penning such a powerful tale. After picking up an Oscar last year for co-writing the screenplay to Ida (Best Foreign Language Film) she goes from strength to strength.

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