Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 7 – 30, 2022
Playwrights: Tasnim Hossain, Claudia Osborne (based on a story by Fritz Leiber)
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Sheree da Costa, Daniel Gabriel, Alex Packard, Tivy Siripanich and Alex Stamell
Images by Phil Erbacher
When Norman discovers that his successes as a lecturer, are due to the witchcraft that his wife practises, things begin to unravel. Forces light and dark are unleashed, as a chain of secrets get revealed, in Burn Witch Burn by Tasnim Hossain and Claudia Osborne, a work of experimental physical theatre, based on a 1943 story (and 1962 film) by Fritz Leiber.
With an emphasis on atmosphere over narrative, the storytelling becomes nebulous. There may not be much certainty as to what exactly is being said, but the production is often unpredictable and intriguing, able to entertain for most of its duration. Emma White’s set design and Veronique Bennett’s lights offer visual brilliance, inviting our eyes to explore every furtive corner of the space. Chrysoulla Markouli’s exhaustive sound design lures us into the ethereal, where we attempt to connect on a plane that is decidedly esoteric and ephemeral.
Directed by Osborne, Burn Witch Burn is a quirky and charming presentation, although the macabre qualities that it tries to render, prove to be less than affecting. Where it intends to portray horror, the show can feel somewhat hollow. There is meaning to be found in this tale of secret women’s business, but Burn Witch Burn is hesitant to make anything obvious, choosing to keep many of its concerns under wraps. The cast of five embodies that mystery well, willing to be looked at but not really seen, with performer Sheree da Costa leaving a particularly strong impression, full of mesmerising intensity and admirable physical discipline.
In some ways, the witches in the show are an allegory for the ways in which power is distributed and enforced. Feminists want everyone to embrace their ideals of equality. We believe that a fair world is the best way forward, but there are many in positions of privilege who will not acquiesce to the idea, that the relinquishment of power is often a good thing. It seems that we are a species seduced by injustice, and a destination of peace is therefore impossible. Activism work can never be complete, it has to be in perpetual motion, whether in the confrontation of others, or of the self.