Out of adversity, a truly extraordinary few days

Adapting Witchfinder as a purely audio performance has been a new experience for the entire creative team. Our recent rehearsal workshops at DanceEast in Ipswich alongside community theatre company Unscene Suffolk were testament to this; taking each of us on an unexpected journey of refocusing, re-learning and really listening.

Witchfinder has evolved because of the restrictions surrounding Covid and performances. But it has become more than just an adaptation because of Covid. It has been transformed into an extraordinary experience for all the cast and participants.”

Nicola, cast member

“Adapting this show for an audio performance really puts emphasis on the storytelling of the songs. The words used, the dynamic of the music and articulation of the words became so much more important.”

Kit, cast member
Musical Director Aga Serugo-Lugo leads a warm up in DanceEast’s main theatre space

Rather than being a traditional audio drama (or play with sound effects), as a music theatre piece this story relies very much upon musical expression and song to carry the listeners through a very emotive and sometimes shocking narrative. We wondered if we could use the sonic capacities of the band instruments to help create continuity and consistency within the sound world. Unscene Suffolk members worked closely with our instrumentalists to explore ideas for sound effects to add to their growing library of cues.

“Being able to explore different sounds for our instruments in order to create something unexpected or an unusual soundscape, was both refreshing and innovative.”

Greg, musician

“Working on sounds with the Unscene Suffolk group was amazing. As a sighted person you treat a lot of peripheral sound as just noise. Working with them (I am a cellist) to get just the right sound for a particular sensation or effect was totally absorbing.”

Hattie, musician
The Witchfinder band

Whilst we were aware we were exploring new territory in many ways, even our most experienced professional team members found working alongside Unscene Suffolk had a profound impact on their own practice as a performer. Inviting the cast to perform the final run-through of the two days in front of a visually impaired audience brought focus to different aspects of their craft, and encouraged us all to consider the show from a new perspective.

“It was fascinating – and also quite humbling – to consider how best to enhance communication between myself and the audience. The quality of their attention was at a different level and we needed to meet that level. I wasn’t alone in feeling very moved by this and I think every performer would benefit from a similar experience.”

Sharon, cast member

Somehow, shifting the attention onto audible dimensions enhanced the horror of the historically-inspired storyline of Witchfinder. Much discussion was shared about how the ‘other-worldliness’ of witchcraft and superstition, so prevalent during the 1600s, could be portrayed through sound rather than visual methods such as costume, special effects and scenery. This led to experimentation with vocal tone, expression, tempo and dynamics, under the trusted baton of musical director Aga.

The final, ever-present dimension to the piece is consideration of the performance environment. Our recent workshops are in preparation for an audio recording that will be made in the historic Walpole Old Chapel in Suffolk, a building that could not be more in keeping with the period in which the story is set. Its acoustic will amplify the hysteria and desperation of a community ruled by fear and division. And ultimately, the audio performance will be shared with public audiences ‘silent disco’-style; individual wireless headphone sets allowing each audience member to roam around the incredibly atmospheric setting of the Tudor Christchurch Mansion, whilst hearing the eerily beautiful tones of accused witches and hissed accusations of a man that may once have walked on the same East Anglian ground as them.

“There is something so immersive when a work has a local and historical angle, coupled with so many contemporary resonances.”

Aga, musical director and cast member