Burn Witch Burn comes to the stage via Sidney Hayers’ 1962 British horror film The Night of the Eagle.
Based on Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife, the UK film was later released in the United States as Burn Witch Burn.
Rather than a faithful rendering, FERVOUR.’s production – adapted by Tasnim Hossain and directed by Claudia Osborne – leans into the idea that this is an adaptation, of an adaptation, of an adaptation.
“Knowing that we wanted to make a show about witchcraft, we have borrowed moments of story that best support a breaking down of form,” says Osborne, “easing an audience into a different kind of storytelling.”
In the novel and film, the story follows Norman, a university professor who discovers that his wife Tansy is a witch. Destroying all her protections, Norman realises how little his success has had to do with his own talent as he and Tansy are exposed to the supernatural attacks of the wives of his university rivals, who have also been using their power to advance their husbands’ careers. This is not the story FERVOUR. wants to tell.
“Our adaptation deliberately subverts the idea of the domestic “good witch”, like you’d find in Sabrina or Bewitched,” says Hossain. “Our witches are unashamedly powerful. They’re not afraid to go to dark places to get what they want.”
Working with a team of performers and creatives to devise the production, Hossain and Osborne are interested in breaking down form and using the elemental nature of witchcraft to create a new language of theatrical adaptation.
“Beginning in a place of domestic pageantry, we soon descend into something much more insidious,” says Osborne. “As the story breaks down, this clean world is interrupted with distorted images of the perverse, the eruption of once repressed erotic energies, and a dark and unflinching exploration of liberation, independence and power.”
The production is fuelled by the unfulfilled potential of this 1962 film to create a visual and aural feast for Sydney audiences in 2022.
“It’s not so much a story of vengeance,” says Hossain, “but an unpacking of freedom. If 1960’s society so failed to fulfil the needs of anyone who wasn’t a white man, perhaps the world of black magic, darkness and desire might have offered an alternative path towards satisfaction and control.”