Mary Woodward Review

The Maggie Wall, Studio Theatre, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Review

***** (5 stars)

“Astonishing”

As Maggie herself would say: “Astonishing” – an astonishing tour de force by Blythe Jandoo who plays Maggie, a young woman accused and convicted of witchcraft and condemned to be burned to death.  

Alone in her tiny cell, and bearing the marks of the beatings, kicking by horses, and cuttings she has recently suffered, she tells us her story.  Living with her mother in a tiny village, marked out from her birth by being different, she is proud of her gifts, the songs that lie within her, waiting to be called forth in time of need.  She is beautiful, and gifted, and darker-skinned than anyone else: these differences mean that when she catches the eye of the laird’s son, recently returned from overseas, she is the obvious target for the ministers and people of the area: she doesn’t stand a chance.

Blythe Jandoo glows with an inner radiance that comes from the gift of song within Maggie.  She speaks directly to us, telling us of the father she never knew, who died when she was wee, and how she and her mother looked after and cared for each other.  Her mother kept her apart from everyone else, aware of the dangers lying in wait for someone so lovely: she is never allowed to go anywhere by herself – but one day her mother is sick, and Maggie must go by herself to the village for the messages.  She has already seen, and fallen for, the god-like Nicholas, and hopes that the world stood still for him, too, when they met for the first time: they meet again as she struggles home with the messages.  To her astonishment and delight he helps her with the messages and brings a doctor friend to attend her sick mother.  He enchants Maggie with promises of a wedding, loves her and leaves her: the next morning there is the thunderous knocking at the door…

It’s a gripping story, told by a master storyteller, and we are with Maggie every inch of the way.  We love her quiet pride and pleasure in her abilities, smile during the enchanting moments when she falls in love, are sickened by the torture she suffers at the hands of people who have know her since she was a wee bairn, and watch, horror-struck, her final moments.  Her narrative is full of joy, humour, a constant questioning of God and her neighbours: the harrowing conclusion which had the audience on their feet applauding this outstanding performance

Martin McCormick, inspired by a mysterious monument to a woman burnt as a witch in 17th century Perthshire, has produced a stunning piece of work which not only grips as a narrative, but prompts us to ask why violence against women continues, more than 500 years later.  Maggie’s final outburst, the question she wants to ask God if she meets him after her death, is one we would do well to ask ourselves – when will it all stop?

The Maggie Wall, Studio Theatre, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Runs until Thursday 29thSeptember for tickets go to: The Maggie Wall | Pitlochry Festival Theatre

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