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Performance Review by Dominic Corr



Culross, respectfully a small village in the grand scheme of the nation, saw dozens of women and one man (recorded, likely more) tortured, captivated, and executed for the crime of Witchcraft. And on a larger scale, from the 16th – 17th century, upwards of four thousand were treated to the same fate; the numbers are likely more. This afternoon, on Samhain at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival draws to a successful and fulfilling close, there is time to reflect upon the repulsive saudade nature of Scotland’s past – of its more hidden crimes and violence towards women and its reluctance to remember.

The tale of Katherine Mitchell, and her mother; two women condemned to a similar fate – punished for nothing other than their outspoken nature, their autonomy, their hair colour, and what lay between their legs. This is the tale which storytelling Rowan Morrison and artist Karen Strang will regale audiences. But it is only one of thousands.

Where elements of the tale are fleshed out for performance and impact, the vital remembrance of the event is that Katherine Mitchell existed – recorded in the University of Edinburgh Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database. Morrison’s weave of storytelling is based in truth, with a foundation of historical accuracy, and carried in as a raw experience, polished in aspects, but understandably innate and under-rehearsed to ensure a sense of authenticity and connection to the past.

Aspects are undoubtedly uncomfortable in their visceral detail, but for those finding a predicament in the recounting the trials and sufferings of these women, they need only take a moment of thought to the agony they endured. The Witchcraft Persecution is conceived with control of Scot’s language as a thing of beauty, an elder language, a language long since ‘stamped’ out for its connection to the old world – and in their storytelling, Morrison finds a rhythm which carries audiences for the entirety of the tale, unwavering in attention.

All the while artist Karen Strang takes a silent role as Katherine Mitchell, providing a live piece of artistry with paints, charcoal, and scraps of rag and tuft. The symbology is pristine in usage, melding colour and form into a heightening of Morrison’s storytelling – coordinating alongside the rhythm of the show to flow from birth to life, to womanhood, and eventual, and tragically, death. The infusion of vivid crimsons against the earthen tones and charcoal semiotics and tallies makes for a striking demonstration to articulate a pain that not even Morrison can conjure.

If it isn’t witchcraft, it’s protest. If it isn’t protesting, it’s base rights. If it isn’t those, it’s bodily autonomy. And if it’s not that, well, someone will find another vilification of women. One can’t help but leave this commemoration with a nod to the contemporary, to the continuation of persecution under a different but evolving guise. And this is never directly connected to throughout the performance. But an inescapable one as Strang takes their first spoken words – as they read the names convicted of the crime of Witchcraft in Culross, Dunfermline. It’s a powerful piece, informative, yet still emotionally engaging and fascinating for audience


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