The Witch (Thomas Middleton), Lord Stanley 22 December

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That toasting from your father's skull moment (picture from Little Goblin FB page)

That toasting from your father’s skull moment (picture from Little Goblin FB page)

Not for the first time, we are in the normal kind of foreign court,  rotten with corruption, treachery, traffic with unclean spirits, adultery, deceit and malice.  As suggested by the title, the characters repair to the witch Hecate to further their base plans, though one could ask what they manage to achieve thereby:

No, time must do’t. We cannot disjoin wedlock:
‘Tis of heaven’s fast’ning; well may we raise jars,
Jealousies, strifes, and heart-burning disagreements,
Like a thick scurf o’er life, as did our master
Upon that patient miracle, but the work itself
Our power cannot disjoint.

As compared with the plot summary here and the text here a lot of the witchy stuff had been left out, along with the subsidiary witches, thus giving no opportunity for pedantic comparisons with Macbeth.  Also the Duke has been made Francisca’s secret lover and author of her swelling belly, thus simplifying the plot and increasing the corruption–I like the sound of that!  We did however have the congealed smell of Christmas dinners from the pub below, which was quite appropriate for Hecate’s cave at least:

FIRST WITCH: The juice of toad, the oil of adder.
SECOND WITCH: Those will make the younker madder.
HECATE: Put in; there’s all, and rid the stench.
FIRESTONE: Nay, here’s three ounces of the red-hair’d wench.
ALL: Round, around, around, about, about
All ill come running in, all good keep out.

I thought the set and lighting worked very well together, so that about one-quarter of the playing area was Hecate’s lair and the rest was the kind of place where powerful degenerates hang out.  The production was clear, strong and well-paced.

I particularly enjoyed the sparkling if brittle cynicism of Charlotte Mack as Francisca  the adulteress, unmarried mother, and schemer against her virtuous sister-in-law; and the various layers of deceit required of Emma Richardson as the Duchess when her machinations went awry.

With a more-or-less universal happy ending, true lovers reunited and an extremely modest body count, this is great fun and funny and well worth seeing!

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