Down among the audience, three women in bonnets and period dress sway to the music of a fourth on the stage, who plays the violin as the spectators file in. It’s an atmospheric start to Call Me Fury - which repositions the tales of historic witches to present the female point of view. The tone is didactic, punctuated with theatrical reconstructions and powerful music, but more expository than dramatic overall.
Men are very much the enemy in this space - the persecutors of the so-called witches and the erasers of their true identities and stories. But the grisly tale of the death of a teenage boy in 2010 shows that not all the victims are female, or historical. The narrative is fragmented, frequently interrupted by blunt commentary, and jumps around in time and space so much as to be confusing at times. One of the performers acknowledges that so many names and characters are bound to be overwhelming; I do understand that this is partially the point, but that doesn’t prevent it being so.
The four cast members are clearly committed to their roles and enthusiastic about imparting their message. Their performances are energetic and emotive, and they make excellent use of space, costumes and props to convey time, place and character. Parts of the show are a little ragged and the message gets very repetitive - again, this is partially the point - but the dangers of people in power acting out of fear and ignorance certainly resonate in today’s political climate.
The musical sections provide a welcome counterpoint to the speechifying, and several of the songs are very powerful, particularly the jaunty melody applied to the countdown to one woman’s hanging. It’s also good to see established historical record being challenged and possible alternative explanations being found in the gaps of what has been passed down to us. The men who feared and abused these women are the ones who laid down their stories, and their perspective is not to be trusted.
The show comes to a rousing and chilling conclusion, focusing on the defiance these women showed to tradition and social expectations. It’s impossible to leave without acknowledging how much they suffered through no fault of their own; but the lasting impression for me is one of being reprimanded, rather than one of empathy and being roused to action.