St Magnus Players return to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with a gripping tale of witchcraft, faith and fear. Based on George Mackay Brown’s story of the same name, Witch tells the story of Marian Isbister (Erika Leslie) and how she was accused of being a witch in late 1500s Orkney.

A nice piece of theatre that has a lot of potential.

You cannot fault the enthusiasm and drive of this cast and crew. It is clear when watching that every member of the company is loving being on the stage. The piece is a hard ask for the cast, as many of them play numerous roles throughout the piece, and some individual performances are strong. Erika Leslie does well to portray the beaten, betrayed Marian, drawing sympathy from the audience in her more vulnerable moments as well as giving the character some strength. Bob Ross’ Sheriff is convincing and menacing, and Ross handles an incredibly lengthy monologue very well.

As well as good moments from the principals, there are times when the company perform scenes together to great effect. An example of this is the scene in which they represent Marian being moved from her village by horse and cart using ropes. This is cleverly done and really works. However, there are full company scenes that seem under rehearsed or just plainly don’t work. At times, the background acting seems farcical and silly, which despite providing some nice comic relief, don’t fit with the tone of the piece and interrupt the flow. It is unclear whether certain moments are meant to be funny or just come across that way. That being said, some of the witnesses in the court scene are truly hysterical, and if purposefully performed in that way, deserve credit for their comedic value.

The set has been well designed and painted but does come across as very amateur. The use of the screen is a clever idea and a nice surprise at the play’s beginning. The use of photos from different time periods in history showing people being persecuted and tortured helped get a key message of the piece across; that the atrocities that occurred during the witch trials are still present in recent social history and still present today, but didn’t quite work on a visual level and appeared disjointed from the play itself.

As a whole, Witch is a nice piece of theatre that has a lot of potential. With a slight revamp and possibly a later slot in the day, the play would be able to achieve the darkness and intensity that it lacks.

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The Blurb

The St Magnus Players return to the 2016 Fringe with Witch by George Mackay Brown and music by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. This powerful tale of the 17th century witch trials in Orkney sets a young girl at the heart of the piece. She is betrayed by Church, State and neighbours, but never loses her dignity. In a society where superstition and social deprivation are rife, fear reigns as the persecution of innocents is made a public spectacle. The unique Orkney medley of writer, composer and local cast bring this tale to life, depicting themes relevant to the present.