It’s not easy to write a comedy about something as un-funny as the torture and persecution of thousands of women, Holly Morgan acknowledges sagely, and yet, she does a bewitching job of it.
If you’ve encountered Holly at Vault before (this is her third show underground here – when’s the travel documentary gig coming, she asks) or at the Edinburgh fringe, you may know the formula by now. If not, don’t fret, she’ll fill you in. Her special blend of comedy/ history lecture comprises one part laughs, one part social commentary and one part impressions, all whilst on a whistle-stop tour through history via Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary. Hold onto your broomsticks!
Our story begins with Holly the eleven-year-old witch. The word was spat at her in the playground by another girl, Holly knew even then what she really meant. To be a Witch in this girl’s eyes was to be a weirdo. An outsider. This formative moment becomes the starting point on a journey back in time, exploring a host of the weirdo women and outsiders she came across in her research. Historically it turns out, powerful men didn’t take too kindly to women stirring up herbs and appearing to possess power of any kind. I mean, who knew? Even Merlin was in on it, childhood ruined.
If you’re looking for a show which explores the more practical practices of witchcraft, this is not it. No bubbling cauldrons, chanting or getting naked in the woods. What we have instead is a quite delightful celebration of our inner ‘weirdo’, of embracing our inner Witch, and a scathing look at those throughout history who have dared to surpass her (or him!) After all, more terrifying than the (perceived) threat of voodoo magic is surely the truly terrifying collection of tweets and statistics on Trump and his witch hunts. Be prepared too for some truly shocking statistics on the state of Witchcraft in the UK. As recently as 2012, the British Government refused to pardon the last individual locked up for witchcraft in this country – in 1944.
But never dear – the ‘comedy part’ of Holly’s show finds a lot of marks. The ‘porridge men’ of Salem (owing to their striking resemblance to a certain illustration on a porridge brand), raving woman-hating King James I and then there’s her only semi-reluctant ‘familiar’ (husband) Tom, incidentally a fine name for a man but an even better one for a Witch’s black cat. He has the sarcastic, quizzical look perfected and seems to find no discomfort in being dressed entirely in black Lycra, paired with fuzzy ears.
Social commentary, comedy… that leaves me with the final portion of the evening, the impressions. Well, not everyone’s favourite witches can have made the final cut but if you like ‘Hocus Pocus’ you’re in for a treat. Not to mention a certain woman, ‘L.M.’ making a much anticipated return for Holly’s fans.
Fighting some technical hitches (maybe there are some demons in the machine) only adds to Holly’s charm and the spell the audience are under (those machine-demons must be on her side).
The overall effect treads the line between sensitive and outrageous. Holly plays with our social expectations of what it is to be a witch (brooms, cats, spells), whilst also intelligently and wittily signposting the very real and dangerous political implications today. Are we ready to face up to them and fight/ cast some spells back? As Holly would say, “Witch, please!”.