188: Witchcraze

2 Dec

I found this 1985 play  of Bryony Lavery’s in a collection of plays called Herstory. Lavery was commissioned to write Witchcraze for The Women’s Theatre Group.

Horned mask

Herne-the-Hunter design, a mask in use in a German theatre play by Jan Fabre, Antwerp. This figure is sometimes also called Cernunnos (the Horned One) http://www.antropodium.nl/Masks.html

Witchcraze is a mask play. There are three actors and they each play many characters, all differentiated by their masks. Like many of Bryony Lavery’s plays, Witchcraze is strongly feminist. It’s also funny, charming and quirky.

Three cleaners sweep around the audience as they enter the theatre. They are cleaners and, as they explain, they are also magicians.

Good friends, we
will be using
Magic
Do not be alarmed
Magic
is the art of making changes
all that is required of Magic
is that
you believe it
We are your Tinkerbell!
Because the Magic we are using here
tonight
is the Magic of Theatre!!!

The three demonstrate their magic through simple and funny examples of theatre’s requirement that we suspend our disbelief. Once they’ve proved that this is rough theatre, the sort where the audience must imagine at least as much as the production is able to show, they begin a journey through the history of witchcraft.

They begin in a wild woodland, populated by fearless hunters who worshipped the horned one.

TUATHA: We catch a stag and kill it and eat it
and we wear its head and skin and dance
a dance to the horned one and the horned
one sends another stag for us to kill
and eat and then we wear its head
and skin and dance a dance […]

There is pagan revelry and frolics until a Christian Knight arrives on his charger and tells the men that they are closer to God and worth more than the women who come almost at the bottom of the chain of command and worth. The Knight tells them that the order of things is God, then angels, then Archbishops, then Kings …

Next … soldiers, priests, farmers
men with money, ordinary men.
Then … horses.
Going down … dogs stags cows
women and cats.

The play takes us through centuries, from pagan ceremonies celebrating seasons and renewal to the cold grey days of England during its craze for witch hunts. There’s a Punch and Judy puppet show and the heightened theatre of masked characters.

I imagine Witchcraze would be an energetic, highly entertaining piece of theatre.

Publisher: Sheffield Academic Press (published in Herstory: Volume 1)

Cast: 3F

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