It is 1612 in Lancashire, England. A group of simple village people from Pendle are preparing for Easter and the opportunity of celebrating their Catholic faith, albeit concealed and practiced in fear (BRING HER DOWN).
At this time, a local pedlar has been cursed by one of the villagers (Alizon) and he has fallen down ill, stricken it would appear, by her. He accuses her of being a witch and in this simple act an unstoppable chain of events begins.
Her only true friend (Catherine) defends her to the other villagers, convincing Alizon and the others that no one will ever know or care what has happened in Pendle; moreover, that far from being an outcast, she is loved (REBORN IN YOU).
Meanwhile in London – a world and social class apart – a young army Captain (James) is planning his forthcoming marriage to his fiancée, Lady Sarah (JUST BEFORE YOU GO - excerpt). In their halcyon existence, they know nothing of poverty, politics or power games, but news of the ‘lawless and malevolent’ folk of Lancashire has reached the King and moreover, his power hungry Privy Council. The King engages the services of Roger Nowell, a Magistrate from Lancashire and Thomas Potts, Clerk of the Assizes to investigate the claims, instructing Potts to make a record of their findings. He also sends with them a contingent of soldiers commanded by James and his Lieutenant, Edward Sykes. The King, influenced by his Privy Council, see the events in Lancashire as an opportunity for the him to stamp his political and religious power on Lancashire whilst at the same time, increasing the power and standing of his courtiers.(THE PRIVY COUNCIL)
On arriving in Pendle, Nowell is immediately in conflict with the locals, led by Catherine (NEVER WILL MEND). They are suspicious of the investigation and both James and Sykes attempt to appease them stating that their role is to keep the peace – and seek the truth. Catherine is not convinced and neither are the villagers, apart from the local innkeeper (Wickham) who sees James’ honesty and compassion.
Nowell begins his investigations and Potts is shocked to find that his account is being used to paint a picture of the locals that is being twisted to suit Nowell’s version of events, a version Nowell hopes will ingratiate him with the King.
The presence of James and the soldiers comes to a head at Wickham’s Inn. He defuses the situation and the rumour of there being ‘evil doings’, by dressing up as a witch to lighten the spirits of everybody (HUBBLE BUBBLE); amidst the laughter, James and Catherine find that far from being on opposite sides, they are ‘…kindred spirits in these dark times’ (A MAN LIKE YOU).
As the investigations ensue, both James and Sykes realise they have been drawn towards the honesty and innocence of Catherine and Alizon and it is not long before they side with the locals … which brings them into direct conflict with Nowell. All the parties consider the journey they have now begun concluding ‘I have found the path that destiny has carved for me in time’ (MONTAGE).The investigation gathers pace and the people find themselves accused by Nowell of witchcraft – including Alizon. In the furore that ensues, Nowell accuses James of being a coward and a traitor. For probably the first time in his life, James realises what is truly important. This is the life, the person he needs to be and we end act 1 with a profession of his sense of honour and loyalty to his people, his country (ENGLAND IS MY HOME).
Act 2 opens with James and Sykes having returned to London to seek the intercession of the King. In doing so, James has returned to a world that could not be further removed from Pendle (NOBLESSE OBLIGE). Unable to see the King, he seeks the assistance of the Privy Council to assist him in his crusade to save the innocent folk of Pendle. Having made their case, they set out to return to Pendle unwittingly believing they have saved the people they have come to look upon as friends. Tragically, they have struck a bargain with the very people who will be their undoing. And for James and Sykes, they realise that Catherine and Alizon are more than friends and before leaving London, James finally accepts that in Catherine he has found the true love that had always evaded him, the life he was meant to live and he is compelled to break off his engagement to Sarah (JUST BEFORE YOU GO).
Back in Pendle at Wickham’s inn, we discover Potts, racked with guilt over his part in what he sees as a travesty against the Law and the Lord and he is overwhelmed with the thought of ‘… how history will recall the man that forged its pages’ (REMEMBER ME).
James and Sykes arrive at the inn to be informed by Wickham and Potts about what has occurred in their absence and that they are too late: several villagers are standing trial – including Catherine and Alizon. There is a tense standoff between Potts and James and even Sykes sees the futility of it all. James is left alone to consider his feelings and how in Catherine, this complete stranger has for the first time in his life, given him purpose, made him at one with himself (NEVER COMPLETE). Though distance and circumstance now separate them, Sarah, Catherine and James reflect on how the journey has affected them, on the loss but also the love they bear (EACH PASSING YEAR).
Sykes travels to Lancaster gaol to see Alizon and tell her his true feelings, but finds her and all the accused asleep. Whilst she sleeps, he pours his heart out concerning all the things he did not have the courage to tell her before (SO PURE). He leaves, having been disturbed by the arrival of a priest who pleads with the villagers to tell the truth: that they were not practising a satanic ritual, but simply celebrating Easter and their Catholic faith. They refuse to tell the truth, but rather place their trust in God. In their final hours before the trial they pray and think of their loved ones who have been left behind (THE PRAYER).
But Nowell has pressed onward with his obsessions and the trial is a predetermined outcome (WITCHFINDER’S INQUISITION). Despite the protestations of James the villagers implode, friend becomes accuser. The women are condemned and Alizon’s young sister Jennet seals Catherine’s fate by finally accusing her also, of witchcraft (THE TRIAL).
Although he has achieved the result he had pursued, even Nowell is overwhelmed when faced by the enormity of what he has brought about, questioning the very things that make him who and what he is (YOU’VE SEEN IT IN YOUR NIGHTMARES).
There can only be one outcome and in their last moments alone together, James and Catherine find the thing that has eluded them throughout their lives … love (ON BORROWED TIME).
We end with the company recounting the final outcome to our story, that being the execution of the accused for having simply committed the crime of being innocent (EPILOGUE) and this segues into James leading the company in a promise to keep those who have gone, for ever in their hearts (SLEEP TONIGHT).
Martin P. Roche (2009)
The cast did a great job on the show, which has some absolutely stunning songs, to provide a great evening's entertainmentreviewing Witchfinder the Musical
Ensembles that stir and ballads that thrill..reviewing Witchfinder the Musical
The show went really well. I don't know who enjoyed it more, the audience or the cast. I honestly think it's the best musical we've ever done.reviewing Witchfinder the Musical
Received the libretto and performance recording from Stagescripts and can only say wow!reviewing Witchfinder the Musical
Love it! The Crucible meets Phantom of the Opera, right up my street.reviewing Witchfinder the Musical
... a genuine, full-blown show that is full-formed with superb orchestrations ...reviewing Witchfinder the Musical
2009 GMDF Theatre Awards for premiere production:
- Best Actor
- Best Choreographer
- Best Director
- Best Book & Lyrics
- Best Production
To find out about obtaining a licence to perform the musical visit the website of Stagescripts.