A shocking turn of events that took place 366 years ago has brought a hardy bunch of souls to Newcastle Castle tonight on a cold October evening, just two weeks prior to the ultimate witching hour that is Halloween. Medieval music echoes around the stone walls as the audience is ushered up the spiral staircase into the Castle’s Great Hall to face their fate and begin what is a truly immersive performance of top class theatre brought to us by Twenty Seven Live.
The setting is intimate and the capacity limited, meaning those in attendance feel truly fortunate to be transported back in time to one of the darkest periods of Newcastle’s history, in a story that has been recreated by acclaimed writer Lee Mattinson. We are introduced to 10-year-old Matthew (William Wyn Davies) and his pet mouse, his mother Katherine (Natasha Haws), aunty Eleanor (Samantha Bell) and 16-year-old cousin Alice (Charlie Raine). The four are concerned as news filters through of local women who have been rounded up by a Witch Hunter from out of town for committing such ‘sins’ as eating without weight gain and having a balding husband.
It sounds beyond belief, but Wytch is the true story of the witch trials that saw 14 women and 1 man tried and hung as witches and wizard all those years ago on what is now known as Gallowgate. There is another figure that has been seen lurking around the Tyne that may or may not become the saviour and redemption to those innocent souls who are sent to their deaths in a kangaroo court, for a twenty shilling reward to the treacherous Witch Hunter.
Such is the strength of the recreation, audience members find themselves transported from the warmth of the 17th Century family living room to the cold horrors of the courtroom before finally finding themselves at the execution site itself. With the action taking place just feet away, it also serves as a chilling reminder that the Castle once held the imprisoned witches within its basement as they awaited trial, meaning the setting is as real and unnerving as could possibly be for a story that haunts Newcastle to this very day.
The performances, all from local talent, are truly awe-inspiring – particularly from the angelic voiced mother Katherine and her son Matthew – and maybe the two-week run of a spellbinding play will be enough to finally lay the souls of those 15 unfortunate victims to rest once and for all.