Edinburgh Fringe 2019
There is a great deal to admire about The Burning.
This all female ensemble, with a nearly all female group of creatives, have made an intriguing piece of theatre. It sets out to tell stories across the centuries of women on the margins – wise women, charmers and midwives – finding themselves on the wrong side of of religious persecution and of the rise of capitalism, beginning with the enclosures. It is important to remind ourselves of them, these women who “birth things, bury things and have a way with candles”.
The staging by Director Roberta Zuric is unfussy and works well. Helena Bonner’s design is atmospheric and Phoebe Parker’s original music compelling, especially at its plainsong simplest, with echoing haunting live voices.
From the start, the ensemble (Keturah Chamber, Jennie Eggleton, Kimberley Hallam and Phoebe Parker) impress. In the opening scene they mouth the voiceovers of a witchburning rabble. It starts as a nice touch, but the descent into comedy and the realisation that this is a scene from Monty Python somewhat undermines the scene’s impact.
We go briefly ‘meta’ with some talk about ‘theatre’ and the shared experience, returning to this approach again with a final call to arms that has echoes of Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s Emilia.
Writer Zoe Guzy-Sprague moves the narrative between a number of different historic tales of (accused) witches, and a modern day story linked to one of them. It is a nice conceit, but the contemporary scenes (and the performances in them) have a different feel to the historic ones, and might have been stronger with a bit less filling in of gaps or spelling out of the play’s underpinning message.
The simmering anger in The Burning is at its best when we feel its message rather than think about it.
The movement (by Ingrid McKinnon and Zuric) is especially deft. The ensemble seem to sweep as one between scenes and time periods. They shiver like flames. Levels (created by simple boxes) are used to great effect. Trust falls and other movements excite.
If the company were to focus a little more on the physical and lyrical elements of this show, and trust an audience’s ability to make their own sense of it, The Burning could be a very powerful piece of theatre.
The Burning is at Pleasance Courtyard at 15.15 until 26 August.