Venue: The Drama Barn
Jared More’s masterful direction of After Midnight, Before Dawn is an unsettling exploration of the uglier side of civilisation. Set at the cusp of the 17th century as the European Witchcraze was sweeping the continent, David Crampton’s play deals with the ferocious persecution of witchcraft, resulting in an estimated 60,000 executions, and the paranoia engendered by this popular image of a (chiefly female) witch. Recounting the tales of six nameless captives all accused of maleficium (witchcraft) only hours before they are condemned to the gallows, More and producers Kate Mason and David Bolwell, succinctly capture a vestige of society on the brink of insanity – even bestiality – during a forty-five minute production that parallels the brevity of time remaining for its prisoners.
Migos gave the most enrapturing performance: grinning with malice, taunting her fellow captives with the thought of freedom.
Beckoned in through the stage door by an imposing male we later recognise as the executioner, the sense of claustrophobia in the Drama Barn’s makeshift cell was stifling. The use of a thrust stage augmented these feelings of oppression as both the audience and inmates were quite literally ‘locked in’. Our attention was drawn immediately to an old woman, played by Katie Fozzard, rocking with fear, faltering through the Lord’s Prayer. A young boy (Anthony Rickman) was thrown into the cell, visibly scarred by the excruciating torture methods used to extract confessions. Two individuals further upstage, a young, naïve girl (Jess Corner) and brawny, middle-aged man (Andrew Frampton) were similarly terror-stricken. Crouched DSR, Alice Tones utilised an impressive variety of tone and pitch, subtly shifting from denial to delirium and ultimately defiance at the prospect of her demise. Golfo Migos gave the most enrapturing performance as the prophetic, if ever so unnerving ‘Calm Woman’. Grinning with malice and towering from above DSL, More’s use of levels was effective in enhancing Migos’s overarching presumption, as she taunted her fellow captives with the thought of freedom. Her threatening tone, spoken in sinister whispers, was pitched perfectly through clenched teeth; invoking stereotypes of witches partaking in satanic rites and pledging their soul to the Devil.
As fleeting loyalties shifted from one’s piety to potential liberty, the prisoners became ever more self-serving and vindictive, culminating in brutal suffocations and multiple fatalities. Yet, the most intriguing aspect of the play was how Migos’s character was not responsible for inciting these depraved acts of violence, but exposing the lengths that those culpable were driven to in the dubious hope of escaping damnation. Her initial foreboding, instructing inmates to “Look to your hearts”, ultimately rang true as the audience were left contemplating a stage of primitive, satanic creatures driven to the depths of hell by their own desperation.