Out of Joint – which presented Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage at West Yorkshire Playhouse earlier this year – tours Jane Wenham to West Yorkshire Playhouse 21-24 Oct. This gripping and haunting new play about sex, fear, religion and magic comes from Bafta-winning writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
An actor turned playwright, Rebecca is now considered one of the UK’s leading voices
in theatre (BAFTA winning and Oscar nominated) and is the first living playwright to have her worked produced on the Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Her many plays include Soho: A Tale of Table Dancers inspired by her own very brief experience of table dancing and more recently The Invisible about the legal aid system.
Rebecca also co-wrote Ida with Pawel Pawlikowski about a nun in 1960s Poland which won an Oscar this year for best foreign language film and also a BAFTA. She is currently working on another film about the second world war allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, who worked as a radio operator in Nazi occupied Paris and was arrested and sent to Dachau.
Her latest play Jane Wenham is inspired by real events in a Hertfordshire village in 1712. Jane Wenham was the subject of what is commonly regarded as the last witch trial in England and like many cases, it was brought through hearsay and rumour with no actual evidence of any wrong doing.
She was 70 years old when brought to trial and her case appears to have been typical in that she was reputed to be a wise-woman, but poor and uneducated. She was convicted and condemned to death, and would have faced the gallows if not for the intervention of the judge, Sir John Powell and a subsequent royal pardon from Queen Anne herself.
Jane Wenham is about desire and how desire or being thwarted can lead to rage and revenge. But it is also about the deep companionship and community of women.
Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern is inspired by one of the last major witch trials in England. The charges brought against Jane Wenham, the cunning woman of a small Hertfordshire village in 1712, provoked a nationwide pamphlet war. Rebecca Lenkiewicz dramatises Wenham’s extraordinary story for our times. Alive with the mysteries of sex, nature and the supernatural, this gripping new play blasts society’s hunger to find – and create – witches.
Director Ria Parry said: ‘Part of what draws me to Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern is that it resonates with issues we are still facing today. In many areas of the world, women are still horribly oppressed, and even closer to home there is a tendency to ‘witch-hunt’ not just women, but anyone we fear or don’t understand – to persecute or demonize a particular group in order to protect yourself or your own. It’s an us and them mentality – a war on the weak, an inability to cope with or accept ‘difference.’
‘There is an intimate look at the power and hypocrisy of religion in the play, which brilliantly interweaves with the community’s treatment of women. Jane Wenham is set in 1712, but it is disturbingly relevant to now. We have a stunning cast and an excellent creative team. It’s a real pleasure to be working with Rebecca on the premiere of her superb play.’
Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern
Courtyard Theatre, 21-24 Oct
21-24 Oct, 7.45pm
Thurs 22 Oct, 2pm
Sat 24 Oct, 2.30pm
Post show discussion Wed 21 Oct
Fri 23 Oct, Panel event: Witch-hunts: Now and Then, 6pm (tickets £3)
All images copyright by Richard Davenport.