(Claire Sawers's article appeared in The Sunday Times of London, July 9.)
Witchcraft: A dark spell in our history
Rona Munro’s play The Last Witch tells of Scotland’s last witch burning, but really it’s about sex and power
What fascinates Dominic Hill about witchcraft is not the cauldrons, the broomsticks or the frogs, but women’s power over men. He is interested in women’s ability to scare them silly.
“The male fear of the witch is really down to men’s fear of women’s sexuality, isn’t it?” he says. “Men don’t like to admit any loss of power, so rather than say they were under someone’s spell, in those days, they would accuse her of being a witch.”
Hill, the artistic director of the Traverse theatre, is talking about The Last Witch, the play he brings to the Festival this month. Written by Rona Munro, it tells the story of Janet Horne, the last woman to be burnt for witchcraft in Scotland.
One of the most pertinent scenes, he says, takes place inside the prison where Horne is held. She is talking with the sheriff, with whom she had a fling, but she now senses he holds a grudge against her. “Did you fancy me?” she asks him and, the way Hill tells it, it is obvious her tone is taunting him. “You deny it now, but does that mean you admit you were bewitched by me?”