Tag Archives: Anne Odeke

The Witchfinder's Sister

The Witchfinder’s Sister


Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

The Witchfinder's Sister

The Witchfinder’s Sister

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

Reviewed – 9th October 2021



the best work on stage is by the very capable supporting cast


The Witchfinder’s Sister, adapted for the stage by Vickie Donoghue from the popular 2017 novel by Beth Underdown, seems like a good choice for Halloween season at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch. Set in 1645, in nearby Manningtree, Donoghue’s adaptation transports the audience into a deeply troubled time in England, where safe lives and livelihoods are hard to find, and a family’s fortunes can change in a moment. The Civil War is already underway, but more importantly, at least for the unfortunate citizens of Manningtree, so are witch hunts. 

Into this world of whispers and neighbours informing on neighbours, comes Alice, newly widowed and pregnant, hoping to find a safe place in her brother Matthew’s house. But the recent death of their mother, and the revelation of family secrets, has left Alice’s brother a changed man. Matthew is a man disfigured by a childhood accident; he is fueled by misogyny, and a desire to find witches that he can name and write in his witch finder’s book. As you might expect, it all goes downhill from there. Donoghue has done her best in adapting this material, though her play is exposition heavy, and moves slowly under the weight of such serious matters. But the problem for any playwright writing about witch hunts is how to acknowledge the giant in the room (in this case, Arthur Miller’s classic The Crucible) without being drawn into direct comparisons. Donoghue manages this with a sly reference to Salem at one point in The Witchfinder’s Sister, but in truth, there is a similarity in the inspiration for these works. Just as Miller was inspired to write his play as a reaction to the “witch hunts” against Communist sympathizers in 1950s America, contemporary Britons may find parallels with “fake news” paranoia, in the whispering neighbours of 1645 Manningtree. Witch hunts aren’t just for Halloween, anymore.

There is a lot to admire about this production at the Queen’s Theatre. It’s a great space for one thing, and the set, lighting and sound designers have the resources they need to show off their work. Libby Watson’s set, Matt Haskins’ lighting design, and Owen Crouch’s sound design set a powerful mood for The Witchfinder’s Sister, and it’s there in the auditorium the moment the audience enters. Once the play begins, however, much of the movement on stage is lost in semi-darkness. While this does sustain the mood, it also places a burden on the audience.

Alice, played by Lily Knight, carries most of this heavy play on her shoulders, but the best work on stage is by the very capable supporting cast, in particular, Anne Odeke, playing Rebecca; Grace, played by Miracle Chance; Bridget, played by Debra Baker, and Jamie-Rose Monk, as Mary. George Kemp, who has recently been making a career of playing brothers on stage, is rather underutilized in the role of Matthew, but The Witchfinder’s Sister is really a play about the women in this story. The men may hold the power in the 1645 world of Manningtree, but in this play, they hold it off stage.

Locals will find visiting the Queen’s Theatre to watch The Witchfinder’s Sister a rewarding experience of neighbourhood history. For those planning a visit from further afield, and without a car, be aware that the District Line may leave you stranded at any point between Barking and Upminster. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and that applies just as much to the citizens of Essex in 1645, as it does to contemporary theatre goers in 2021.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Mark Sepple


The Witchfinder’s Sister

Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 30th October


Dominica’s other reviews this year:
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
Rune | ★★★ | Round Chapel | August 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021


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Review of The Secret Keeper – 3 Stars


The Secret Keeper


Reviewed – 17th October 2017



“there is a lack of urgency and of any real feeling of menace or darkness”


The Secret Keeper is billed as ‘a political fairytale for adults – with songs, magpies and a murderous gothic heart.’ I’m not sure it quite lives up to the description, but there are certainly things to like about Angela Clerkin’s script. Clerkin also takes the central role as The Good Daughter and co-directs with Lucy J Skilbeck.

The Good Daughter becomes a Secret Keeper for the inhabitants of the very odd town where she lives after her father confides his deepest secret to her and she feels wonderful afterwards. Soon everyone from the chemist to the vicar are flocking to give her their secrets. She swears ‘cross my heart and hope to die,’ never to tell. But what should she do when a murder is confessed?


Niall Ashdown, Hazel Maycock and Anne Odeke play all the other characters and portray some genuinely very funny moments. There are also some good songs and some weird business with magpies signifying secrets, presumably because of the line in the rhyme, ‘seven for a secret never to be told.’ Other people’s secrets can be a burden and the pressure to tell can be immense. In pushing their daughter to become the Secret Keeper, her parents are putting her into the centre of the very adult deceits and lies of the town. She hears things a child should not hear. The Good Daughter’s dilemma, to tell or not to tell, is perhaps reminiscent of the questions facing whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning.

But there is a lack of urgency and of any real feeling of menace or darkness. The set (Simon Vincenzi) is filled with haze, creating a mysterious atmosphere, but the story-telling is meandering and there are loose ends and lost opportunities – why is the father a doll’s house maker? Why is salt such an important commodity? The play feels too long, as though a short story has been stretched, and with some judicious editing it would work much better.


Reviewed by Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Sheila Burnett




is at Ovalhouse until 21st October



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