Burn Witch Burn – Fervour Theatre, Old Fitz (NSW)

Adapted by Tasnim Hossain and Claudia Osborne, Directed by Claudia Osborne

Reviewed by Charlotte Smee

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Season: 9 July – 30 July 2022
Session Times:
Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm
Approximate run time 75 minutes

Burn Witch Burn is an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, that revels in the witchy, the dark, and the act of translation. Based on the 1962 horror film Night of the Eagle, which is in turn based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, this theatrical version leans sometimes too far into the world of imagery and theatrics to create a very beautiful journey to somewhere we aren’t sure we’ve arrived.

The show tells the story of Norman the anti-superstitious professor and his witchy wife Tansy, and what happens when he discovers that a bunch of sticks and “craft projects” are the secret to his success. He throws away all her spells, and his life quickly falls to ruins – all at the hands of fellow professor and witch Flora.

The talents of the FERVOUR team are undeniable. Set design by Emma White brings dramatic white drapery all over the stage, that is later torn down and thrown into a heap to be metaphorically burned along with the witches. Behind the drapery, the walls of the Red Line theatre are lined with mirrors, creating an eerie and smoky reflection of the audience and actors. Lighting by Veronique Bennet is rigged up directly on the stage, allowing for some interesting deer-in-the-headlights-type beams that shock us into the next scenes.

In the opening scenes, the cast are dressed impeccably by Monique Langford, with pleasingly sharp block colours and 1950s style kid gloves and hats. Alex Packard as Norman is endearingly odd – hilariously delivering the first part of the story as if he were making it up on the spot. The cast all have a delicious precision in movement, voice and style that is entrancing to watch. As Packard stutters and stumbles over his words, Sheree da Costa, Daniel Gabriel, Alex Stamell and Tivy Siripanich are dotted across the stage in various states of doll-like stillness, moving only by the inch – some divine direction from Claudia Osborne. This was such a detailed and clear moment that I only wish continued throughout the production.

Adapted by Osborne and Tasnim Hossain, and devised with the cast, this is perhaps a case of too many cooks spoiling the proverbial broth. Each moment, separately, is undoubtedly theatrical. What is lacking is a throughline or consistent theatrical “language” that the audience can latch on to. One such moment was when Stamell, in partial darkness, started a microwave containing a packet of popcorn that rotated and crackled as they moved – the timer countdown and the accompanying movements were such a great image, only their purpose together was unclear.

FERVOUR have an eye for the theatrical, the odd and the grand, and this should be applauded. If you’d like to get lost in a witchy world for an hour or so, this one is beautiful and strange, even though it doesn’t quite lead you anywhere. Be prepared to leave bewildered – in both the good and bad senses of the word.

Burn Witch Burn plays at the Old Fitz Theatre until the 30th July. Tickets can be booked here.

Creative team

Presented by FERVOUR. & Red Line Productions
Adaptor and Director Claudia Osborne
Adaptor and Dramaturg Tasnim Hossain Devised with the cast
Set Designer Emma White
Costume Designer Monique Langford
Lighting Designer Veronique Benett
Composer Chrysoulla Markouli
Associate Director Jennifer Rani
Movement Consultant Shy Magsalin
Producer Imogen Gardam
Associate Producer Monique Johnstone
Production Manager Caitlain Cowan
Stage Manager Annika Bertinat
Cast Sheree da Costa, Daniel Gabriel, Alex Packard, Tivy Siripanich and Alex Stamell

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