CALL Me Fury is an ambitious play from the pen of Sasha Wilson. Thought provoking. In places, it’s shocking although it is not without occasional humour and lashings of good music, wit and foot tapping songs.
Focused on the witch trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693 (the focus of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, The Crucible), it homes in on the flimsy evidence that was used to condemn 19 individuals to death (most of them women). Individuals whose faces often did not fit, were usually poor and had lost loved ones, and were sometimes condemned on the say of people with scores to settle. All very shameful and set against a backdrop of religious zealotry.
All the individuals, claims the play, were innocent of witchcraft as indeed have been many other women convicted of the same sin across the ages (including very recently). Women who often faced awful, tortuous, barbaric deaths (breasts cut off, burnt at the stake). Indeed, husbands and families often faced a similar horrific fate – guilt by association. The play does not spare the audience the gruesome detail.
The four actors – all competent musicians whether playing guitar, violin or mandolin – play an assortment of characters. Magistrates (male), reverends, alleged witches (through the ages and across the continents including China and Scotland) and various vagabonds. Versatility is the order of the night and all four rise to the task quit splendidly.
But the central characters are Abigail Williams (a super Mairi Hawthorn), the niece of Reverend Samuel Parris (an equally marvellous Sasha Wilson), alleged witch Sarah Good (Gracie Lai) and Tituba (Olivia Kennett) who lived in the Parris family home. It is Abigail, a troubled young girl prone to fits, who is the catalyst for the trials that ultimately see Bridget Bishop (Wilson), Good and other innocents swing at the gallows.
The music provides some light relief , especially Wilson’s Witchy Woman and the song (Wilson again) that accompanies the 25 minute countdown to Bridget’s hanging (the first to be executed). Lai also possesses a mighty fine singing voice.
Sometimes Call Me Fury, an Out Of The Forest Theatre production (Wilson is its artistic director), is a little confusing because of its breadth and constant troop of characters, but this an important play with a strong feminist undercurrent – the grotesque rule of man, man’s view that most women are sinners, and society’s victimisation of often vulnerable and poor women. It also points an accusing finger or five at religion.
As Wilson (in her role as the play’s narrator) tellingly says towards the end, all the women who were executed laughed and loved. They were never the demons they were made out to be. Shame on us.
Title image by David Spence