THEATRE – The Burning


[star rating =4/5]

Good witch. Wicked witch. White queen. Red queen. Maternal. Frigid. Madonna. Whore.

Incognito presents an incendiary piece of theatre detailing the endless female trade-off between goodness and power.

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From 16thcentury witch hunts to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, witches have become a cultural shorthand for evil and social upheaval. Witches are also a common stereotype invoked against women who upset the social order or otherwise present themselves as socially powerful figures.

The Burning sets itself the ambitious goal of laying out all of the ways this stereotype has been used to silence and keep power out of women’s hands, and almost entirely succeeds.

The plot is split into two, with our four performers telling a series of stories of women accused of witchcraft through the centuries – while, in the modern day, Rebecca struggles to come to grips with the legacy left behind by her mother’s death. Both stories collide in a way which is at once surprising and natural without being cliché.

Incognito is already well-known for it’s award-winning style of physical theatre and this all-female production does not disappoint. The four actors expertly weave their story using tightly choreographed movements which always manage to accentuate rather than distract from the spoken dialogue.

Sound is also woven into the narrative and the fact that these sounds also come from the actors on-stage creates a unique atmosphere of what can only be described as primal.

The costume and production design are just as fluid as the cast, with three boxes representing everything from a scaffold to, well, boxes. A change of character can be symbolised with the addition of a shawl or hat over the performers’ black robes.

The Burning is a show which demands a lot from its audience as well as the performers. The fast-paced storytelling means that viewers must pay attention throughout and by the end you will be left wanting to know more about the themes raised within the play. For instance, the role of the printing press in silencing women’s voices, and how women have historically been shut out from public.

However, you might feel about the state of women’s rights in the world today, The Burning asks some important questions of us and of our society.

It draws our attention to stories which we think we have already heard – but in fact we have only just scratched the surface of what it is to be a woman, both today and in the past.