In the Arts: Play tells story of first woman in Ireland to be charged with witchcraft

Michael Conaghan and Jane Hardy, whose new play is called Witch

WITCH, a new play by Michael Conaghan and Jane Hardy, focuses on the story of Alice Kyteler, the first woman in Ireland to be charged with the heresy of witchcraft, in the 14th century.

The playwrights describe their drama as a bold retelling, with a contemporary twist, involving a young American woman investigating her Irish past. It’s also a dramatic tale of sorcery, the clash between Church and state, and of a remarkable woman.

Alice Kyteler, born to Flemish merchants who settled in Kilkenny, was charismatic and strong; she is mentioned by WB Yeats (who has a walk-on role in Witch) in his poem Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, where he describes her as “love-lorn” and refers to her affair with an incubus.

The new play puts Alice centre stage, and she stands up to the English Bishop Ledrede, a man obsessed with clearing his diocese of satanic practices. It gives dame Alice a voice, not filtered as it would have been at the time by men such as her son William Outlaw.

In the imagined encounter between Alice and the bishop, she says: “I am a wronged woman. Which is not to say I have not done wrong in my life.”

The fallout from Alice Kyteler’s case led to her servant Petronella de Meath being burned at the stake. She herself, however, escaped and fled the country.

Witch also touches on feminism, colonialism and a touch of Gothic via a case of possession. Musician Robin Harvey provides an original score which underlines the discordant mood.

:: A staged reading of Witch takes place at the Black Box, Belfast, with actors Victoria Gleason and Mark Claney interpreting the roles, on Tuesday March 13 at 1pm. Tickets £5,, tel 9024 4400.

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