This was one of the most remarkable striking and uncomfortable productions that I have seen in a long time. Almost every scene packs a punch straight to the gut. It is bold, violent and unashamedly female. The Unbinding explores the lives and suffering of four women accused of witchcraft. It looks back at what leads them to that point as well as their treatment after their arrest, taking a particular interest in the women’s brutal tortures and condemnation.
Bold, violent and unashamedly female
You can tell that each woman performing is hugely invested in the piece and giving it their all. As a devised piece involving the cast themselves you can feel a personal connection they have with the work. Even watching them is exhausting as they give a jet fighter's worth of energy to even simple actions. I can only imagine that the week following their short week's run will consist mainly of taking naps and nursing their bruises. The sound used throughout is distressingly loud but their screams are louder.
Looking around the audience I could spot so many eyes locked on the ground or mouths wide open, shocked and struggling to watch such graphic depiction of the violence these women endured. It is a tough watch. All the pain and blood feel so real in these performances, aided heavily by superb use of lighting effects plunging the stage into darkness only to revel brief snapshots of horror. Although despite the realistic imagery of their tortures much of their backstories where displayed with a great deal of ingenuity and creativeness. The choreography was regularly surprising and fresh and space was made for lighter moments such as a story being told through jazz poetry.
Metallic mask structures were placed on the women’s heads, dehumanising them and transforming them into grotesque animals, a vivid visual for how the society around them viewed them. These were designed by David Calder and Fleur Calder and give a beautiful sense of style to the production.
Unfortunately the overall, very strong production was brought down by both the star and the end of the piece. Women being incapable of existing in the space without becoming bickering and catty didn’t feel very ‘on brand’ for a highly feminist piece of work. They end the piece with a letter the company wrote, signed with the names of four real accused witches. In this letter it is explained that although they have seen the worst that people can be, overall humanity can still be great and the real prize is the friends they made along the way… whilst being tortured horrifically in a prison cell. The rest of the production does not shy away from just how awful this abhorrent violation of women’s rights was at that point in history. I couldn’t help but feel this forced optimistic ending did a disservice to the hard-hitting, horrific message of their suffering delivered elsewhere.
That being said, I highly recommend anyone to come see this show. It's only on for a short run so catch it while you can. A highly uncomfortable but worthwhile watch that doesn't euphamise the historical vilification of women. It's frightening and upsetting but very, very real.