Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern, Arcola, review: ‘Crackles with fire and brimstone’
- Credit: Richard Davenport
The script of this atmospheric witch hunt is prone to sink when put to the test, says Greg Wetherall.
A stage lies bedecked with a crooked crucifix and a hangman’s noose. It foretells of the rabid witch hunt which will later unfold in Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s atmospheric and moody Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern.
This densely scripted work was written by an Oscar winner (Lenkiewicz co-wrote 2015’s best film in a foreign language victor Ida) and it bristles with a fast talking energy and crackles with fire and brimstone.
Set in 1712, proceedings commence with young Ann Thorn (Hannah Hutch) rapt in grief over her murdered mother. The blind, elderly and vexatious Priddy Goodstern (Judith Coke) warns Ann to stay clear of the absent Jane Wenham (Amanda Bellamy) for her own sake.
Meanwhile, an aged but progressive priest, Francis Hutcherson (David Acton), is visited by a conservative young reverend Samuel Crane (Tim Delap), who is determined to condemn Jane Wenham as a witch.
You may also want to watch:
Hutcherson, who recalls the atrocities of the witch hunts from decades previously, warns against this desire. What unfolds is a reverend on a mission to make his mark in defiance of the elder priest and the abject cruelty scored when heed is paid to scurrilous rumour.
Lenkiewicz’s work does well to establish motive, with the grinding gears of pointed conjecture and supposition motoring the debate.
- 1 Jailed: Newham men who raped and robbed women in Hackney home
- 2 London's emergency services show support for LTNs
- 3 Hackney's great beer gardens reopening on April 12
- 4 Community group crowdfunds to turn old Lea valley water depot into wild space
- 5 Campaign to keep Hackney Wick 'alive' with street art
- 6 Godwin Lawson's mum reflects on the ‘hardest call’ after son's fatal stabbing
- 7 Police hunt Ilford man after shooting in Hackney
- 8 Hoxton restaurant showcases menus by New City College student chefs
- 9 Former East Enders actor takes next career step as a film director
- 10 Hackney mum left with 'deep scars' after sexual assault at school
Commendably, director Ria Parry has constructed a play high on portentous atmosphere that compliments the narrative, alongside performances that are similarly sympathetic and full of weighty gusto.
That said, the play drags intermittently at the very moments where it should glide, though it is saved somewhat by the penultimate scene, which elicits an electrifying conclusion to Wenham’s torrid plight.
Rating: 4/5 stars