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Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern review at Watford’s Palace Theatre – ‘a slow burner’

Hannah Hutch and Amanda Bellamy in Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. Photo: Richard Davenport

Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s latest play, receiving its world premiere at Watford’s Palace Theatre, takes its inspiration from events in a Hertfordshire village in the early 1700s when inhabitants feared the curse of witchcraft had returned.

It has been years since anyone has been put on trial for this grave sin against God, but the hanging of a ‘witch’ in Walkern results in Tim Delap’s fanatical young chaplain Samuel Crane pursuing eccentric folk healer Jane Wenham as the next likely candidate for execution.

Initially, the piece suffers from too much exposition, along with subplots and dialogue scenes which state their point time and time again. However, Act II is far more compelling, with director Ria Parry finally adding some much needed pace to the proceedings, cleverly highlighting that it is not Jane, but all the other characters we have been introduced to, that are damaged and struggling with their own secrets, sins and prejudices.

There is not a weak link in the cast of eight, even if some of the accents are a little distracting. Hannah Hutch, as Ann Thorn (daughter of the woman who has been executed as the play opens), is believable in the way she stirs up trouble against Jane, while Delap is convincingly perverse as the sadistic Crane.

There are also powerful performances from Amanda Bellamy in the title role, David Acton, Judith Coke, Andrew Macklin, Cat Simmons and, most impressive of all, Rachel Sanders.

Designer James Button’s minimalist set manages to serve the production well and add a welcome intensity to the drama taking place.

Verdict
A slow burner of a play which, with editing, has the potential to be a gripping drama

Production Information

Production
Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern
Venue
Palace Theatre
City
Watford
Starts
September 23, 2015
Ends
October 3, 2015, then touring until January 30, 2016
Press night
September 28, 2015
Authors
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Director
Ria Parry
Design
James Button (set/costume), Richard Howell (lighting), Max Pappenheim (sound)
Technical
Nina Steiger (dramaturg), Matt Hutchinson (puppet design/direction), Kat Hicks (dialect coach), Alison de Burgh (fight director), Emma Hansford (company stage manger), Gillian Allright (touring wardrobe supervisor), Harriet Mackie (casting)
Cast includes
David Acton, Amanda Bellamy, Judith Coke, Tim Delap, Hannah Hutch, Andrew Macklin, Rachel Sanders, Cat Simmons
Producer
Out of Joint, Watford Palace Theatre, Arcola Theatre, Eastern Angles
Running time
2hrs 20mins