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Bewitching moments in bleak drama.

Byline: HHHHI SARAH PROBERT

REVIEW The Witch of Edmonton SWAN THEATRE, RSC VETERAN RSC actress Eileen Atkins plays an abused, haggard and lonely old woman accused of being a witch in this bleak Jacobean melodrama.

She emerges slowly through a forest of sticks, which appear like rows of broomsticks, her fragility immediately apparent as she laments her misfortune before being beaten across the back with her own firewood by taunting neighbour Banks.

She wishes she was a real witch in order to seek revenge on the community which has shunned her and her wish is granted with the appearance of a devil dog.

Based on the true story of Elizabeth Sawyer, who was accused of being a witch in the village of Edmonton in the 17th century, the play by Dekker, Ford and Rowley follows two main stories, that of the troubled Frank Thorney (an excellent Ian Bonar) who finds himself married to two women and then desperately attempts to hide them from each other and the misfortunes of old woman Sawyer.

Adapted by RSC artistic director Gregory Doran, there is plenty of humour sandwiched between the tragedy, with morris dancing yokel Cuddy Banks (superbly played by Dafydd Llyr Thomas) providing much amusement when he befriends the devil dog, oblivious to its sinister powers.

Here we see his morris troop bewitched, performing a riotous routine, ending with the masculine Sir Arthur Clarington camply prancing around with a red ribbon.

But this rarely-performed play seems to plod through the second half and, whilst the main action provides plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments, the dialogue is sometimes overly long.

Jay Simpson is outstanding as the devil dog, who appears in little more than a codpiece and wagging tail, with enlarged pointed ears and twisted horns.

His movement across the stage as a fourlegged beast is incredible as is his ability to appear both sinister and cute at different times. The play also marks the RSC debut of Oliver Dench, grandson of the late RSC stalwart Jeffery Dench, who showed real promise as a hapless morris dancer and stern officer. I expect we will be seeing a lot more of him in the near future.

The play runs until November 29.

HHHHI SARAH PROBERT

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Eileen Atkins as Mother Sawyer in The Witch of |Edmonton at Swan Theatre, RSC

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Oct 31, 2014
Words:386
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