Theatre Review: Hags, Axbridge Town Hall.
We call them Twitter pile-ons in the new world of call-out culture. A feverish desire to point the finger or rather click the mouse and lay into someone or something we condemn. Except in 1682 there was only village gossip when three women in Bideford were accused of being witches. The pile-on then was to see the trio arrested, tried, condemned and executed for the non-sensical crime of using their supernatural powers to make candles out of babies, spread disease and death and other absurd charges.
Scratchworks Theatre have deconstructed the notorious last witch hunt of Restoration England in their production of Hags – an entertaining and enlightening take on the equivalent madness of the Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts in which innocent people were accused of witchcraft or being in league with the devil.
Instead of a traditional narrative and plot (as in Miller’s The Crucible) Hags takes the absurdity of the accusations against the three women and sends them up in a high energy, glitter-covered show using song, physical theatre, magic and comedy. The trio double up as judges, bigoted husbands and assorted residents as well as playing the condemned women. Sian Keen was Mary Trembles, Laura Doble played Susannah Edwards and Alice Higginson-Clarke brought Temperance Lloyd to life – the first to be accused. Adding live music, sound, evocative lighting and a good deal of zany humour in a 1980s disco sort of way was Andrew Armfield who was essentially the drama’s compere or MC. Directed by Katy Villa the chemistry between the foursome was evident in the slick interchange of costumes, characters and narratives – physical theatre at its finest.
However at times the narrative was so disjointed it was hard to follow and there were asides such as the fox and hen houses, the puppetry insert that meant a loss of focus. From their running magic card trick joke of ‘Find the Lady’ to enlisting audience members to read out guilty verdicts on the women the cast ensured there was plenty of interaction in breaking the fourth wall. The set and costumes designed by Cory Shipp were styled around a modern magic show with glitter boxes, a black illusion screen and a neat string trick which helped to introduce the three unfortunate women. Confusing at times but always entertaining the message helped to set the story straight of the trio executed for witchcraft while at the same time acted as a warning about the 17th century equivalents of Twitter pile-ons. The consequences of which can be tragic – then as well as now.
PS: The experience was enhanced for the audience in the sold-out show promoted by South Somerset based Take Art by the provision of free hors d’oeuvres passed around by the organisers.
For more on Take Art visit: https://takeart.org/
For more on Scratchworks Theatre visit: https://www.scratchworkstheatre.com/
Much has been written about the Bideford witch trials – Wikipedia has some useful notes at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bideford_witch_trial
Mary Trembles – Sian Keen
Susannah Edwards – Laura Doble
Temperance Lloyd – Alice Higginson-Clarke
Andy The Musician – Andrew Armfield
Music created by Andrew Armfield & the company
Director – Katie Villa
Magic Consultation – Peter Clifford
Set & Costume Design – Cory Shipp
Lighting Design – Will Tippett (for 2020)
Lighting, Sound & Technical Management – Nathan Benjamin
Puppet Consultation – Joshua Lucas
Puppet Maintenance – Chloe Benbow
Project Producer – Sarah McCourt
Axbridge Review is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.
Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc