Stepping into The Space, where The Witch’s Mark is performed until 22 July, the audience is greeted firstly by the heavy scent of incense. then the ominous background sounds. A single chair sits expectantly in the centre of the performance area. Then the lights dim to blackout – all the more gloomy in contrast to the summer’s evening outside. All this sets-up a powerful sense of foreboding, only added to by the fact that, for those that don’t know, The Space is a former Presbyterian church, which only serves to enhance the atmospheric mood of this piece.
Celeste Markwell plays Agnes Sampson in this true story set in Edinburgh in 1591 when she was falsely accused of being in league with the devil as a result of being a healer, a skill she believed she was gifted by her mother. All her accusers have to do is find where the devil has left his mark on her, in the course of which she is mercilessly tortured.
Celeste Markwell’s performance is both compelling and remarkable. She addresses the Devil, played by author and director Timothy N. Evers. For fully 30 minutes she tells her story in an impressive monologue. At this point we are startled by Evers loudly proclaiming Agnes’s name – but now he is not the Devil, but, for a moment, her accuser. His portrayal is powerful and unnerving as we hear the twisted logic which has brought Agnes to this point. He claims, for instance, that God would not allow an innocent person even to be accused of witchcraft, so her very presence on trial is conclusive evidence of her guilt.
But the Devil has no words in this play, his brooding presence alone being enough to unsettle the audience. Agnes, though, is strong and not easily cowed. This is surely one of the most impressive performances you’ll see on any stage. Evers has written a huge and challenging part and it just flows from Markwell, sweeping the audience along with her. She brings us into the horror she has experienced and we discover the woman beyond the false accusations. A word, too, about the lighting and sound design, which are both subtly evocative in creating and underpinning the mood. The performances, the story, the space – all come together here in a very special way.
This is what theatre is about. Sure, a West End musical can be a great treat, but intimate venues with great performances close to the audience provide an un-matchable experience.
The Witch’s Mark is part of Over The Limit’s Celtic Season and is at The Space, 269 Westferry Road, London until 22 July.