Tuesday, October 3

Prick – The Space on the Mile: Space 3

‘Prick’ is a powerful new play by Laurie Flanigan Hegge which throws a light on a shameful period in Scotland’s history. 

Between 1563 and 1736 nearly 4000 people (mainly women) were accused of witchcraft. More than 2500 of them were brutally executed. Garroted by the hangman, they were then burnt at the stake, leaving no bodies for their families to bury.

The play’s title, ‘Prick’, refers to a sharp iron needle pushed, often repeatedly, into the bodies of women accused of witchcraft. The Pricker was seeking a witch’s mark, a part of the body which would not bleed or feel pain. The accused woman had first been stripped and shaved. If all else failed, the pricks often had a blunt end which would not draw blood. The Pricker could then claim that he’d found the devil’s mark. Often women ‘confessed’ to witchcraft rather than suffer any more torture.

Witches were accused of making a pact with the Devil, of fornicating with ‘auld Nick’ so that he would give them the power to carry out the evil deeds with which they were accused.

This production, sensitively directed by Meggie Greivell, has docudrama elements.  After some music, singing and chants, the play opens with a journalist interviewing a farmer who claims that a witch has killed his cow. She has confessed and will burn tomorrow. The reporter assures us he’ll be back to cover the execution.

A talented cast of six young actors – three women (Abigail McDonald, Lisa McIntyre and Carys Turner) and three men (David Clarkson, Ewan Jardine and Lev Siegel) captivates us for 75 minutes. Each performer plays at least four different roles including women accused of witchcraft, The Witch Pricker, King James, two Ministers, a Farmer, an Investigator and ‘Auld Nick’.

The ensemble acting is excellent. The performers change characters with consummate ease, gliding smoothly through the scene changes, helped by haunting music and simple costume changes. Plaudits to costume designer Charlotte Bowe, Stage Manager Emma Mackay and their assistants.

The play focusses on the stories of three of the executed women: Marioun Twedy, Isobel Gowdie and an unknown woman who represents those whose records have been erased or lost. The spirits of the three women have been ‘conjured’ so they can tell us what happened to them.

The unknown woman was accused of killing a child. She confesses to the crime although she was innocent. “I’d have done anything to stop them torturing me”, she says.

Marioun is accused of causing the death of a child. She had said that if the girl didn’t take more care, she would have an accident. Subsequently the child had an accident and died. Despite being brutally tortured by several men who smelt of ale, she did not confess but the Pricker claimed to find the Devil’s mark in a ‘private place’.

Isobel admits to ‘unspeakable acts’ such as killing children. She enjoyed fornicating with the Devil. Isobel was fantasising and had what would now be recognised as mental health issues.

The women were tortured not just with the prick but by deprivation of food and sleep, iron collars attached to ropes pulled by the torturers, thumbscrews and taunts from their accusers. This production makes effective use of realistic puppets designed by puppet artist, Madeline Helling, to depict the harrowing tortures.

On International Women’s Day in 2022 Nicola Sturgeon, then First Minister of Scotland, issued a formal posthumous apology “to all of those accused, convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.”

But the producers of this enthralling new play are supporting a campaign by ‘Witches of Scotland’ to secure a pardon for all those accused and to build a national monument to preserve their memory.

Reviewer: Tom Scott

Reviewed: 7th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.