Tag Archives: Miracle Chance

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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Be More Chill

Be More Chill

★★★★

Shaftesbury Theatre

Be More Chill

Be More Chill

Shaftesbury Theatre

Reviewed – 6th July 2021

★★★★

 

“an undeniably addictive show”

 

Based on Ned Vizzini’s 2004 novel of the same name, it is difficult to watch the musical adaptation without the added poignancy wrought from the knowledge that Vizzini took his own life at the age of thirty-two. He was aware that the musical was being produced – indeed even excited at the prospect. Writer Joe Tracz and composer and lyricist, Joe Iconis, had just finished the first draft when they learned about the author’s death. Sadly, he hadn’t yet heard any of the music, much of which represents Vizzini’s personal struggles.

It’s hard to know how much of the innate sorrow washes over the audience’s head. “Be More Chill” is unquestionably aimed at the younger demographic, and one hopes that it speaks to them more directly than the whoops and cheers that accompany the action suggests. There is a superficiality that belies the subtext and, whilst you cannot ignore the sheer entertainment value of the production, it would be a shame to belittle the significance. As a (slightly) older member of the audience I try to put myself in a younger pair of shoes. Yes, I can argue that there’s nothing ground breakingly new here, but the freshness of Iconis’ music and lyrics, with Tracz’s book pull you in to the story; a pull made more forceful by the strength of the performances.

Stephen Brackett’s production focuses on two high school characters doing their best to try to fit in: Jeremy; who is on a quest to find acceptance, initially with a self-absorbed disregard of anything or anybody else (cue the scope for redemption), and Michael who is more accepting of his oddball status. Jeremy is persuaded to try a new pill called SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor) which imports a supercomputer into the brain and instructs him how to achieve the self-confidence he needs. It is a short cut to the popularity he dreams of but, being a heavy-handed metaphor, comes with the predictable downfalls. Michael is sceptical. What follows is a weird and sometimes wonderful storyline that is a mixture of high school musical and sci-fi fantasy.

Scott Folan’s Jeremy is a perfect mix of charm and angst, susceptibility and awareness. The standout is Blake Patrick Anderson as Michael. The audience cannot fail to be gripped by his show stealing performance, particularly during the most recognisable number, ‘Michael in the Bathroom’. Yet each cast member shines in their own way. Stewart Clarke as the personification of ‘Squip’: an intended pastiche and homage to Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix’. Miracle Chance illuminates the stage as love interest, Christine, while Christopher Fry delights as Jeremy’s father – trouser-less but nevertheless still ‘wearing the pants’.

The characters are brought further to life by Alex Basco Koch’s video projections which hypnotically convey the altered states of their minds. There are moments when the narrative steers a bit too close to confusion, but the actors pull it back and through song refocus on the heart of the matter. It’s a show of extremes; of suffering and joy, the agony and ecstasy. It’s initial run Off-Broadway failed to ignite its audience, and it simmered silently for a couple of years. Through word of mouth and YouTube clips the soundtrack eventually hit the charts and a cult phenomenon was born. Paradoxically you can understand both receptions. It is an undeniably addictive show, although I can see why some might want to resist it. But if you can cast aside reservations and learn to ‘be more chill’ it is well worth the ‘trip’.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Be More Chill

 


Be More Chill

Shaftesbury Theatre until 5th September

 

Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021

 

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