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Theatre Review: The Last Witch ****

Joy Watters reviews 'a stunning, unforgettable' production.

It is with a stunning, unforgettable revival of Rona Munro’s 2009 play that PFT completes the summer repertoire, and what a season it has been. From musical soar away success Chicago (best selling production in the theatre’s 67-year-history) to this powerful, chilling piece, we see an extraordinarily adept ensemble across a range of theatrical genres.

In 1727, in Dornoch, Janet Horne was the last woman burnt as a witch in Britain. Munro tells her story with humanity and insight and Richard Baron’s production is completely on point as Janet inexorably moves to her horrendous death.

Ken Harrison’s set is clearly focussed with an oval of sky above and a wee bit of land below, a camera obscura on Janet’s life, scraping a living off the land.

Janet is not a woman to be silenced and Deirdre Davis excels in the role, revelling in her ability to offend, bullying and babying her own daughter by turns. She beautifully conveys Janet’s fight for justice in a world that has none.

Fiona Wood too is outstanding as the daughter, deemed a witch because of her deformed hands and feet, confused and powerless in the face of prejudice and superstition. Neighbouring smallholder Douglas Begg first cries witch through hatred of Janet, and Alan Steele perfectly captures the farmer’s later horror at instigating the witch-hunt of an innocent woman. Helen Logan is perfect as his wife, always kind and supportive to Janet whatever she does, even there at the burning to shout coded words of comfort.

There is no weak link in the seven-strong company which embraces the changing moods with ease.

The soundscape (Jon Beales) fits like a glove, conveying the parameters of church and superstition within which the community dwells. Chilling, humorous, teeming with life, Baron and his cast movingly convey the ever-present threat of prejudice in a community.

A co-production with Firebrand Theatre Company, The Last Witch runs in repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until October 11th before touring to the Tron (Oct 30th-Nov 3rd) and the Traverse (Nov 7th-10th).

Tags: theatre

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