Scottish playwright, director and actor Timothy N. Evers brings his award-winning The Witch’s Mark to The Space (Westferry Road, Isle of Dogs). The seating, set in the round, gives the audience the sense of being in a jury, ready to hear the case of Agnes Sampson (Celeste Markwell).
The Space is the perfect setting – a dark, eerie room in a converted church (formerly St Paul’s, de-sanctified in 1972) – for the audience to witness The Devil (Timothy N. Evers) haunting our protagonist.
A single chair the only piece of furniture used throughout, The Space lends itself to a prison cell, a court room, a gloomy churchyard, the inner reaches of Agnes’ mind…
The year is 1591. Edinburgh is gripped by the witch-craze, King James (VI and I) is on the throne and we meet local healer, Agnes, who stands accused of witchcraft and of sleeping with The Devil.
Set the night before her execution, Agnes stands, breathless, before us to unveil her tale of torture. In a convincing broad Scottish accent, hissing the word ‘witches’, Agnes bares her soul to the audience. Celeste Markwell possesses an otherworldly look in her mascara-smeared eyes throughout the captivating one-hour performance. It’s a compelling near-monologue, broken only briefly by the heavy panting or vile cackling of The Devil in the shadows to add to the sinister atmosphere.
Agnes explains the belief that once The Devil’s had his ‘wicked way’ with a witch, he leaves a mark. An area where she can’t feel any pain. Agnes has been cruelly manhandled by guards attempting to discover ‘The Witch’s Mark’ upon her, using a needle to prick her all over.
In court Agnes protests her innocence but slowly reveals to the audience that she discovered she’d special healing powers as a young girl. Passed down by her mother, knowledge of herbal remedies written in a book. However, she discloses that her mother was tormented to the point of throwing herself into a watery grave. As Agnes considers the events of her life, she comes to realise the anguish her mother felt lies within her heart too. The ache has been passed down through her ancestors, and she’s always been destined to tussle with the devil and fight her urges to give in to his temptations.
Markwell delivers a bold unwavering speech, detailing how she first crossed paths with The Devil and denied his advances time and again. Captivating lyrical prose draws us into Agnes’ world, leaving us guessing throughout whether she is actually innocent or guilty. In her heart and mind, at least, if not in reality.
The production company behind this piece, Over The Limit, formed in 2015 by Joseph Cullen and Oran Doyle aims to reimagine the stories and tales of the forgotten person. Male or female, alive or dead, fact or fiction, and seek to bring them to life on stage.
Witches are scarcely forgotten in literature but the modern, fantastical characters of the likes of Harry Potter, Hocus Pocus or Sabrina the Teenage Witch, to which modern audiences have grown accustomed, are far removed from Agnes. Agnes seems real – not overdone. She’s no broomstick, no cauldron, no familiars prowl at her side… She’s used her powers to heal and she is guilty of nothing but resisting the devil’s temptation, she firmly seems to believe.
Agnes’ tale is poignant when we consider the meaning behind it, and the vile excuses men historically used to persecute women. “Witches” i.e. women with unusual skill or a rebellious streak were forced to feel guilty for experiencing lustful desires. This simple story of a ‘she-devil’ highlights that she was not alone in the torment of the time she lived – and died – in.
So. Did The Devil left his mark upon Agnes? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. We enjoy being taken along for the dance but I couldn’t help but wish the play had left more of a mark upon the viewer. Disappointingly, we aren’t quite pulled under N. Evers spell and, although it contains strong dialogue, with Markwell and N. Evers delivering solid performances together, one couldn’t help but wish there was a powerful conclusion as the witching hour came to a close…
Actors: Celeste Markwell, Timothy N. Evers Writer/Director: Timothy N. Evers, Theatre: The Space, Westferry, Dates: 18th – 22nd July 2017