My first visit to the fifty-seater Hope Theatre (situated above the Hope & Anchor pub in Islington), and I’m here to see Out of the Forest’s production of Call Me Fury, a play written by Sasha Wilson and further devised by the company with Hannah Hauer-King.
We probably all have our own perceptions about witchcraft in general, and the Salem witch trials in particular, something that Wilson blames on Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (admittedly a favourite of mine, which I have reviewed in productions at The Yard and at the Old Vic).
Call Me Fury reclaims the voices of Abigail, Tichiba, Sarah Good and Bridget Bishop, in a blend of song, anecdote, comedy, and historical explanation which gives voice to “our fallen sisters”.
Along with Wilson, a chatty American who starts off proceeedings by dismissing the myth of the Abigail-Proctor affair and goes on to reclaim the place of women, the cast consists of Mairi Hawthorn (a chilling Abigail, plagued by memories of seeing her village pillaged and family massacred), Gracie Lai (measured and confident as Sarah Good, effective as a royal handmaiden killed for her spells), and Olivia Kennett (a regal Tichiba and a calm yet coiled storyteller).
This is a bold feminist take on The Crucible, interspersed with real stories of supposed witches across the world: one at the end brings us up short and into the present day, evoked with a sense of sadness, shock and silence.
The stage is strewn with autumn leaves and dominated by a wooden cross, which even lights up at one point. The set by David Spence is deceptively simple, the lighting design by Holly Ellis hugely evocative of oppression, small spaces, darkness, fear and prejudice in the dark, hope and courage in the light. Our characters brush past the audience, hold eye contact, whisper in ears, crouch down close-by, and challenge us to be complicit in the story.
Abigail, a child of twelve, afflicted by trauna, lies to protect herself and to be noticed: as she says at one point, “boy cries wolf, girl cries witch”. Women know their place in history but go down fighting. Speak, says Wilson, and you will be heard, even if you are not seen in black clothes and the details we have on you are sketchy.
For the sake of our fallen sisters, do better, comes the message. Call Me Fury gives a voice to the poor, the odd, the bitchy, the frightened, the misunderstood of womankind everywhere. It is dark, funny, moving and brave.
Call Me Fury continues at the Hope until 5 October, and tickets are available at http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/call-me-fury/ for £15.
All photos courtesy of Out of the Forest.