Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Witch of Edmonton (RSC)

A devil dog connects the disparate threads of the atmospheric Witch of Edmonton. The collaborative work by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, and John Ford followed Henry Goodcole's 1621 exposé The wonderful discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer, a Witch, late of Edmonton.

The titular witch (Eileen Atkins) is a Shylock-like figure. Abused and berated by her neighbors, Mother Sawyer decides that if she is treated like a witch, she will act like one. Who should be listening but the devil, a black "dog" (Jay Simpson) named Tom. Meanwhile, the young Frank Thorney (Ian Bonar) secretly marries the pregnant Winnifride (Shvorne Marks), but his father insists Frank wed the virtuous daughter of a wealthy farmer. The third plot line follows the ridiculous Cuddy Banks (Dafydd Llyr Thomas, resembling Jack Black, here), who asks the witch about a love spell before encountering the devil himself.

Moody lighting, a reedy forest, detailed costumes, and beautiful if brief musical accents bring the rural Jacobean setting to life. One of the most memorable musical interludes is a funny and eerie dance that the devil commandeers. The devil is a marvelous creature. Simpson looks like a traditional demon, nearly naked, covered in paint, and decked with horns and a tail. His animalistic movements and light voice create a seductive, otherworldly figure.

The solid cast is unable to prevent the show from slowing to a crawl during its drawn-out conclusion, and there is one awkwardly prolonged death-scene. Still, the tense Witch of Edmonton makes for a night of spooky and suspenseful theatre.