Swindon’s Wrong Shoes Theatre Company have developed a well-earned reputation for eclectic, bold and sometimes uncompromising original productions and – true to form – their latest work, ‘The Unbinding’, is another red hot poker up the fundament of their audience.
Devised from historical accounts of witches from Wiltshire and beyond ‘The Binding’ paints the histories and shows the sufferings of four women imprisoned in the crypt of a village church on charges of witchcraft.
A cast of four – Hanna Marquez (Ivy), Rebecca Martin (Lilian), Louise Catherwood (Ruby) and Daniella Faircloth (Prim) – bring this demonised quartet to the Shoebox stage using a mixture of mask work, dialogue and shocking tableux with an original soundtrack varying from sonorous Latin chants through haunting ambient rhythm to torch song pastiche.
There is blood, violence, graphic scenes and much more in this show to bruise the more sensitive palate. In fact I heard after that one audience member passed out during one scene near the end that’ll certainly remained printed in my memory for some time. But there’s never a cartoonish Grand Guignol bluster to the bloodshed and violence. The blood is earned through the emotional brutality of the storytelling and much worse and the actual and figurative torture is spoken of and implied rather than shown.
That said: please don’t think that ‘The Unbinding’ is a pure hour of unrelenting grimness.
Alright, it’s pretty grim at times, but it’s not a dentist’s chair of a show. Not really. More a rollercoaster. There are flashes of dark humour, at times almost playful, and the sorority that eventually forms between the characters gives an almost happy ending, even if it is one glimpsed through the grimy and shattered glass of a fun house mirror. If you’ve a strong stomach and enjoy theatre that’s willing to test your resolve then this is a play that will satisfy.
Even more satisfying is the knowledge that this is the first step of a devised production that will evolve and grow on a journey that is ultimately intended to end at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Who knows what dark wonders it will be capable of by then?