Call Me Fury
Reviewed – 19th September 2019
“an interesting and atmospheric production with many thought-provoking moments”
It is hard to know what to make of Call Me Fury at first. The set (David Spence) emanates aspects of folk horror, with bright autumn leaves scattered against straw and an ominous-looking cross – a palette that works well against the performers’ stark pilgrim black (costumes by Helen Stewart). But when the cast snap into action with snippets of wry and ironic commentary, it becomes clear that something different is at work in this production. What emerges over the play’s 75 minute running time is an anthology-style study of witchcraft, which eventually spills over into a piece seeking to tackle the entrenched lies and elusive truths of women’s history.
The main narrative thread that binds the show together is the well-worn story of the Salem witch trials, carried out with much meta-referential criticism of Arthur Miller’s iconic version of the tale in The Crucible. All of the cast (Mairi Hawthorn, Gracie Lai, Olivia Kennett and Sasha Wilson) take on the familiar roles from history: Abigail – the young girl who cries ‘witch’; Samuel Parris – the quick-to-condemn preacher; Tituba – the slave so easily cast as a villain; and Sarah Goode – the poor and despised woman who first faces the accusatory finger, as well as many others. The writing (Sasha Wilson) adds new depth to the characters of Salem through monologues that speak to the power of past trauma and the alienating nature of fear.
However, apart from these few monologues, for the most part the cast play out the action of the trials and their consequences while jumping quickly between being participant and commentator, stopping suddenly to narrate historical backstory and offer their own conclusions and jokes. It is sometimes these parts that feel the least effective element of the whole ensemble – summoning up the over-exaggerated melodrama of the original legend only to pull it apart in asides. It is when the performers branch out into discussions of witchcraft more generally that the dialogue delivers up moments of insight.
Alongside the Salem witch trials, the audience is treated to brief vignettes that examine the fate of other witches through time – spanning from the ancient past to eerily close to the present. The staging is used the most cleverly in these quick scenes; slick body movements and vivid red cloth convey the Gothic pathos of these tales well. Folk songs also punctuate the drama, and these give the performers more time to shine. They keep the mood of the piece anchored when elsewhere the tone so often shifts, and bring a delightfully haunting magic to the stage.
The direction (a collaboration with Hannah Hauer-King) allows the cast a lot of movement so that nothing feels static and the audience is always engaged, but there are moments where some pauses or drawn-out moments of drama might be welcome, in order to let some of the script’s heavy subject matter penetrate more deeply. The lighting (Holly Ellis) is effective, but there are some hints at the start as to how it could have been used more throughout the show.
Altogether, a combination of compelling performances from the cast and a bold mixture of different ideas explored in the writing make Call Me Fury an interesting and atmospheric production with many thought-provoking moments.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards
Photography by David Spence
Call Me Fury
Hope Theatre until 5th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: