REVIEW: The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster (Greenwich Theatre)

‘The Wonderful Discovery of Witches in the County of Lancaster’ at the Greenwich Theatre is an interpretation of Thomas Potts infamous account of a series of English witch trials that took place in the summer of 1612. The play revolves around the accounts regarding the Pendle witches, who, among the twenty men and women under accusation, became the most remembered.

The show opens with a distinct air of showmanship as a pair of ex-magistrates, ’Potts’ (Christopher Birks) and ‘Nowell’ (Dan Nicholson), aim to warn the hard-working men of the country of the unholy plague infecting the earth, using nothing more than a few props and costumes, their painful memories and their finest weapon: the last surviving and now “cleansed” Pendle witch, ’Jennet Device’ (Amy Blair). But things don’t quite go to plan when ‘Jennet’ begins to weave a rather different account of what happened to her Mother and Grandmother.

The entire story was played out by the cast of only three fantastically well. The extremely talented trio played every character involved in the tale, from farmers to witches, with flawless execution. They must also be commended for their impressive a-cappella vocals, which gave the whole piece a twisted nod toward the zealous religious times in which the action takes place.

Dan Coleman’s direction was astute and interesting to watch. The set was extremely minimal, and put me in mind of ‘The Woman in Black’ playing at the Fortune. I felt there was always something or someone to look at, and the petite cast seemed to fill the sizeable space with ease.

Birks plays ‘Potts’ with an unsettling glint in his eye. This teamed with Dan Nicholson’s sincerity and ernest manner made for an enjoyable uncertainty; as though the very seams holding them together were being pulled slowly apart. Amy Blair was also a joy to watch. She transitioned from an unknowing child to a fragile and unhinged adult and back again with a raw, gritty edge which left the audience unnerved and questioning the truth in every line.

My only qualm with the casting was that Dan Nicholson looked too young to play the part of ‘Nowell’. Not to take away from his beautiful work, I just feel a completely different and more interesting dynamic would have been created by casting an older gentleman in the role.

As a script it was intelligent and well thought out, but there was no real “action” involved. Unfortunately Gareth Jandrell’s writing can only do so much within the frames of Potts’ volume and the play lacked the ‘edge of your seat’ style it was aiming for; I found myself asking “What was the point?”.

Overall it was an enjoyable piece of theatre with a shade of darkness at its core. Although not to all tastes, I would argue that everyone would gain something from watching it. An interesting and thought provoking play, but a deflating end leaves me wondering if it’s a story that really needs to be told.

Reviewed by Jimmy Richards