Theatre review: Jane Wenham - The Witch of Walkern, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. Picture: Richard Davenport
Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. Picture: Richard Davenport
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Although Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s latest play – a co-production between Out of Joint, Watford Palace Theatre and Arcola Theatre and in association with Eastern Angles – is inspired by one of the last major English witch trials that took place in a small Hertfordshire village in 1712, there are plenty of resonances to our modern world.

Religious fanaticism and the demonisation of women are two of the play’s most potent themes and Lenkiewicz, while telling a tale rooted in history, draws the contemporary parallels.

After the hanging of her mother Eleanor as a witch, young Ann Thorn (Hannah Hutch) turns for advice to the village wise woman Jane Wenham (Amanda Bellamy) – an elderly eccentric herbalist who has a remedy for everyone. However, it’s not long before a tragic incident leads some in the community, not least the fanatical Reverend Crane (Tim Delap), to cry witchcraft.

An excellent ensemble cast of eight – with some well-handled doubling and great roles for women – give strong performances in a powerful story that, like Arthur Miller’s mid-20th century classic The Crucible, poses the big questions about truth and lies, blame and guilt and the importance of tolerance and humanity. Never have those messages been more relevant.

• At the West Yorkshire Playhouse until October 24. 4/5