The Vaults, London – until 17 February 2019
Guest reviewer: Christina Bulford
The Salem witch trials of late 17th century America are infamous. In just a little over a year, more than 200 people were accused in the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut alone. Nineteen of those were found guilty and executed by hanging, but more died in jail or under torture. The death rate could have been higher still but we’ll never know, most court records were destroyed or lost. It remains the deadliest witch hunt in US history.
Call Me Fury tells what we know of the stories of these women (although there were some men, too). The four-strong cast swoop amongst us in the small, thrust space playing judged and jury, witch, priest and puritan villager. Their combined performances as a refreshingly mixed-age and nationality ensemble of four capture a sense of the hysteria that led to the high accusation rate. Sasha Wilson in particular, who also wrote the script, cries out in such a convincing and unsettling pitch that hairs stand up on the back of your neck, and you’ll see the imagined devils appearing in every shadowy corner.
Their voices combine in storytelling and also in song. If you saw Bury the Hatchet at Vault (and its subsequent venues) last year, you’ll know you’re in for a treat with Out of the Forest’s original arrangements of American folk classics. Call Me Fury also features some original songwriting. Mairi Hawthorn’s fiddle and Gaelic folk songs are especially melodic, sad and beautiful. A jaunty, country-style death song briefly lightens the mood.
A lot of the script is dedicated to the details of the trials and capturing the mood, but less is dedicated to answering the why, and interrogating the trial process and historiography of the trials themselves. At times, it feels like a list of crimes and punishments. Why were the women not all proclaiming their innocence, but claiming to have met with the devil Himself and signed his book? What was causing women to turn on each other, the accused going on to accuse others in their place? Why are we still talking about these trials today? How is the phrase ‘Witch hunt’ still emblazoned on our cultural consciousness, and still active in our vocabulary? The process is ugly and anger-inducing – and Wilson’s writing does not shy away from that – but it could dig deeper and ask the questions these events beg with a clearer voice.
Perhaps that doesn’t matter. What matters is the stories these women share and what links them: they are all outsiders. Single mothers without husbands, beaten wives, beggars who cannot feed their children and immigrants from places unknown and with practices even less known or understood. The kind of women without an important name, and without a voice.
Name-calling has a power, we are told, and in Call me Fury these women have a right to the name of Fury – a right to be angry. Banded together by their place on this stage, they are a commanding force to be reckoned with and one worth listening to.