Incognito Theatre’s new show explores the maligned and marginalised figure of the witch throughout history. Clad in black robes, the four performers tell the stories of a succession of wise women, healers and midwives who ended up scapegoated, tortured, imprisoned, and in some instances, killed.
These accounts are interwoven with the modern-day story of a young woman sorting through her late mother’s belongings so that her home can be sold, and the land built upon by developers, but this plot is never as convincing or interesting as the historical material.
The Burning is salted with references to the Malleus Maleficarum, Matthew Hopkins, the infamous witch-finder general, and the numerous women accused of consorting with the devil. This is where the meat of the play lies.
But though Roberta Zuric’s production opens promisingly, with the performers lip-syncing along to the witch speech from Monty Python, this pleasingly mischievous tone is immediately ditched for something more sombre and pedestrian.
This playful sensibility is never replicated. The contemporary story falls flat and the final exhortation to burn everything down and begin again feels heavily indebted to Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia.
It’s not without promise as a piece, but given the richness of the subject matter, it fails to leave much of a mark.