Long before the Salem witch trials in America, there were the Manningtree witch trials in Essex!
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch has today announced the exciting world premiere of Beth Underdown’s chilling and creepy tale of Essex witch hunts, The Witchfinder’s Sister. Based on the true story of the infamous witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, with one of the most memorable heroines in recent historical fiction. Playing in Hornchurch 7 – 30 October 2021.
This spellbinding and haunting historical thriller was Beth Underdown’s debut novel, a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and winner of the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown Award 2017. The Theatre has commissioned Vickie Donoghue, an acclaimed playwright from Thurrock, to adapt the novel for the stage. Vickie was recently one of three Essex creatives commissioned by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch to develop a Creative Estuary co-commission, Tales from the Thames. This new play successfully brought live theatre to parts of South Essex where it is rarely, if ever, staged. Vickie has worked at The Bush, the High Tide Festival, New Theatre Royal Portsmouth, the Royal Court and Sheffield’s Crucible. She is Paines Plough’s playwright Fellow 20/21. Her 10-part Podcast drama The Piper, co-written with fellow playwright Natalie Mitchell and produced by Somethin Else for BBC Sounds, was broadcast in November 2020. It starred Tamsin Outhwaite and Kacey Ainsworth.
Set in 1645, The Witchfinder’s Sister follows the story of Alice Hopkins, who comes home to Manningtree to live with her brother after her husband is tragically killed. But home is no longer a place of safety, as rumours of witchcraft spread through the town. Alice discovers her brother much changed, as a reign of hysterical terror takes hold. Alice begins a desperate race to reveal what’s compelling the obsessively cruel Witchfinder General, before more innocent women are found guilty.
Playing Bridget is Debra Baker (Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin, Channel 4), with Miracle Chance as Grace (Be More Chill, Shaftesbury Theatre, West End and Other Palace), George Kemp as Matthew (Bridgerton, Netflix), Lily Knight as Alice (Saint Maud, Film 4, BFI and Escape Plan Productions), Jamie-Rose Monk as Mary (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre) and Anne Odeke as Rebecca (The Winter’s Tale, Royal Shakespeare Company).
The production is directed and choreographed by Jonnie Riordan (Nigel Slater’s Toast, West End/UK Tour), with design by Libby Watson (The Philanthropist, Trafalgar Studios, West End), lighting design by Matt Haskins (Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Apollo Theatre West End, UK, Australasian Tours) and sound design by Owen Crouch (I, Cinna (The poet), Unicorn Theatre).
The Witchfinder’s Sister is a highlight of the Theatre’s Essex On Stage programme, made possible by the generous support of The Clothworkers’ Foundation.
Tickets to The Witchfinder’s Sister cost £12.50 – £29 plus 65p QRenew Fee, tickets for under 26s are just £8. A pre-recorded audio description is available at all performances from 11 October. There will be a live audio description on Saturday 16 October at 2.30pm. To book, visit queens-theatre.co.uk or call the Box Office on 01708 443333.