In 2018, Incognito Theatre Company won the Greenwich Partnership Award, which has secured the company a place on Greenwich Theatre’s Supported Artists Programme.
Now, they’re previewing their new show, The Burning, at Greenwich Theatre, before taking it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the entirety of August. The play follows the lives of women and their witch-hunters through the ages, and explores the persecution faced by women who live on the fringes of society and who challenge established patriarchal structures.
Holly O’Mahony speaks to the show’s director, Roberta Zuric, and Incognito’s artistic director, Angus Castle-Doughty, to find out more…
Holly O’Mahony: The Burning is a celebration of womanhood – one that’s in defiance to the derogatory depictions of women that are often rife in a patriarchal society. What inspired you to devise a play around this topic?
Roberta Zuric: The idea arose when I read Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, a feminist text which looks at how capitalism impacted the European witch hunts in the middle ages, in addition to reading endlessly about the unending acts of violence towards women around the world and anyone who doesn’t ‘fit’ the patriarchal norms of gender. I felt it was a topic of conversation that was urgent and I wanted our show to add another strand to the conversation.
HOM: What can we, the audience, expect from The Burning?
RZ: To have your preconceptions about witches and the witch-hunts challenged. The history of this is much more complex than we are made to believe when the idea of a witch is reduced into the cultural stereotype that is prevalent in our society. The strands of human nature that instigated many of the witch-hunts in the middle ages are still active today.
HOM: So quite heavy going, then?
RZ: You can also expect to see four very talented performers take you through centuries of European history in a physical, visceral way!
HOM: How has the creative process been in terms of putting the show together?
RZ: It’s very much a collaborative effort, as is usually the case with Incognito. We have a research and development period earlier in the year in which we create lots of material and experiment with what the best form for this particular story is. The entire team contributes to the writing and idea generating. Then our brilliant dramaturg and co-writer, Zoe Guzy-Sprague – new to the company this year – goes away and ensures the language and form is consistent throughout by collating the ideas and writing a rehearsal script. As we get into rehearsals and begin the physical storytelling journey, the script evolves and changes, and is tailored to the performers in the room.
HOM: Your previous shows, other than your recent production of All Quiet on the Western Front, have been comedies. Why the switch to more serious subject matters?
Angus Castle-Doughty: Government Inspector was definitely a lighthearted farce, while Tobacco Road and Dorian Gray lent towards the darker comedic scale, but we’ve always tried to maintain a level of drama in the shows. It’s important to put the light against the shade, not only to keep the audience engaged but to add a gravitas when the tone does shift. Predominantly, though, each story, including The Burning, has been the right story for us to tell at that time.
HOM: You won the Greenwich Partnership Award in 2018. Can you tell us a bit about that?
ACD: It’s been great working with Greenwich Theatre since the award, [the company has since become part of the theatre’s Supported Artists Programme]. They’ve given us a great base to work from that we consider home and the mentorship we get from the whole team is invaluable as well. We started the company when we were so young and have been fortunate enough to have been guided by both the Pleasance and Greenwich Theatre on our journey so far.
HOM: Following your preview performance at Greenwich Theatre, you’re taking The Burning up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. How are you feeling about your run at the festival?
RZ: Really excited. I’m keen to hear how the audience respond and discuss with them the thematic provocations that the play presents.
HOM: You’ve taken several shows to the festival before. What do you love most about performing there?
ACD: Three things: the smell of Edinburgh (it honestly smells like sweet corn), the audiences willing you to succeed, and the fact some of us have been performing there since we were 15 with Young Pleasance, so it genuinely feels like home.
HOM: Finally, what advice would you give to companies or solo performers taking a show to Edinburgh for the first time?
ACD: Social media and word of mouth are your biggest tools. If you have time to engage with your audience – do! Also, Black Medicine [coffee shop] and BRGR [burger restaurant] will keep you well fed.
The Burning is showing at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, SE10 8ES.
July 28 at 4pm.
Admission: £15/£10 concessions.