Maria Hollins, played by Evie Ioannidi, is a woman living in Germany, who in 1593 is arrested and accused of child cannibalism; digging up and eating a buried baby. For this she is tortured in prison between fifty and sixty times before she is released. The character is based on a real story of a woman incarcerated and tortured under allegations of malevolent sorcery, and the play was in- spired by writer and history student Camilla Rees’s module in witchcraft.
Of course, witchcraft is generally taken as a joke, but with Halloween coming up Camilla wanted to draw attention to the thousands of real people unfairly imprisoned or executed on the spurious grounds of ‘maleficium’.
The first scene I saw was the second scene of the play: Maria is imprisoned and her husband Thomas is alone, unguarded against the advances of his old flame, Ursula. The direction is quite striking – the stage split, Maria can be seen curled up in her cell stage left, while Thomas and Ursula are stage right.
Jordan Reed as Thomas plays an angry, con- fused man clearly distraught at the allegations levelled against his wife. His rough voice often fractures on stage; this aggressive upset con- trasts very well with Ursula’s needling whine. A woman unhinged, her vulnerability and desperation is almost as distressing as Maria’s on the other half of the stage. Tentatively strok- ing Thomas’s arm, she asks, “Why not me?” and pitifully attempts to flatter him, “You were so clever… you knew much more than me…” His coarse shout of “You’re deluded!” implicitly asks, who’s the mad one in the situation?
The second scene is not emotionally fraught but equally hard to watch. Maria is being interrogated by a man, played by Andrew Dickinson, who seems to conflate sex and violence. His physicality could be more threatening but he does manage to be both creepy and brutish. Bringing out several instruments for inflict- ing pain, he justifies himself with a misplaced sense of duty: “We need to be careful…”
There are some harrowing moments and though currently they’re not as convincing as they could be, by 3rd week the acting should be tight enough to do the intensity in the script justice.
The Death of Maria will be on at the Burton Taylor studio at 7.30pm from the 29th to 2nd of November. Tickets are £5/6.