Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern at The Liverpool Everyman

Posted on 28 October 2015
By Chris High
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Surreal, compelling and – perhaps most of all – harrowing, Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern currently running at The Liverpool Everyman Theatre, is nothing if not a metaphor of how gossip and everything bad needs to be somebody else’s fault, and how that “somebody” is usually the most lowly of outcasts.

It is 1712 and England has been free from the horrors of the witch hunts for decades, until strange circumstances see one woman hanged for the crime and another – following a tragic death – being hounded.

The dark atmosphere that such a scenario requires is beautifully created by James Button’s set, at the centre of which is a gallows standing stark against a light grey, pock-marked wall that is easily likened to that which those facing a firing squad might stand.

The intricate use of lighting enhances the scenes, particularly those of the gossips recounting tales of lascivious detail-ridden trysts with the Devil and the complete atmosphere of the piece comes close to at once being claustrophobic and, at the same time, intensely voyeuristic in how it encourages the audience to bear witness as though they themselves are the jury.

Indeed if there is one issue that somewhat jars, it is that having taken so much time to build the melancholic mood it is a pity that it is almost washed completely away by some pretty heavy-handed, slapstick comedy moments more fitting of a Carry On film which add little to proceedings.

The cast, most of whom are in multiple roles, are superb, with David Acton’s liberated Francis Hutchison, Hannah Hutch’s grieving and confused Ann Thorn, Tim Delap’s deluded and pious Samuel Crane and Rachel Sanders in the role of The Widow Higgins – who is every bit as sin-riddled as any yet seemingly free from sin in the way she “helps” her fellow villagers – are all worthy of high praise.

Yet it is the stand-out performances of Cat Simmons as the “free” servant Kemi Martha and, in the title role of Jane Wenham,Amanda Bellamy that deserve to be lauded, not only for their imperious nature but also for their bravery.

With allusions to many other plays – Macbeth with its cackling witches and The Crucible for, well, obvious reasons to name but two – Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern remains an entirely original production of note that will leave audiences pondering just how dangerous tittle-tattle can be.

Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern
The Liverpool Everyman Theatre
October 27 – October 31
Author: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Director: Ria Parry
Designer: James Button
Producer: Out of Joint
Cast Includes: David Acton, Amanda Bellamy, Judith Coke, Tim Delap, Hannah Hutch, Andrew Macklin, Rachel Sanders, Cat Simmons
Running Time: 2 hrs 20 mins
PR Rating: ****