The Last Witch

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Neil Cooper, Four stars

A killing moon beams down with various shades of intensity throughout Richard Baron’s revival of Rona Munro’s play, inspired by the last woman to be burnt as a witch. It was an execution which took place in the Highlands in 1727, just before such superstitions were supposed to have been swept away by the Scottish Enlightenment. As Deirdre Davis’ Janet Horne is tortured by the authorities in the second half of the play, however, the language used against her resembles some of the misogynist hate speech used by some men on social media to demonise women who dare to be different or else just have an opinion.

At first things all look a bit Ab Fab, with Janet a free-spirited hippy mum to Fiona Wood’s scowly but practical teenage daughter Helen. Janet is wilfully singular, sexually confident and able to shroud herself with a mystique that both beguiles and terrifies the villagers. While Janet is able to intoxicate them with hallucinogens from the earth, Helen is in need of natural highs of her own. When Janet both beguiles and humiliates the new sheriff in town, alas, both women’s fates are sealed.

Punctuated by Jon Beales’ live score for singing bowls and primal chorales, Baron’s co-production between Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Borders-based Firebrand company is a brooding and moody treatment of a play first seen in 2009. Of the three men onstage, two – Alan Steele’s neighbour, Begg, and David Rankine’s strutting sheriff, Ross - are terrified, not just of women, but the power of her imagination to liberate both herself and others. Alan Mirren’s tellingly named Nick, meanwhile, is an inspiration of sorts for Helen to find magic of her own as the crows look set to haunt the scene of the crime forever while she learns to fly.