Review: Necessary Evil: Hotbed Festival – The Junction, Cambridge

Good and evil. In a dark prison cell the boundaries are blurred. Not for young Lizzy Malkin though. Tortured and charged with being a witch, she finds herself imprisoned with the source of her torment, Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins.

Both face a crisis of faith. Malkin can’t believe that a God would allow her innocent soul to be put through such suffering, while Hopkins needs to reconcile the possibility that those he has sent to their deaths may have in fact been innocent.

Benjamin Askew’s visceral two hander weaves historical fact of Hopkins’ zealous crusades against perceived witchcraft in 17th Century East Anglia and infuses it with a modern vernacular that brings the tale to vivid life.

Hopkins’ brutal crusade seems totally justified in his mind, sending 300 souls to hell to save the wider community from Satan’s curse. In Malkin’s eyes, though, it is Hopkins himself that is the Devil personified, a man set upon destroying what he sees as cunning women. As Hopkins finds himself on trial for his life accused of sorcery, the balance of power shifts between the two.

Askew’s script is a masterpiece of historical epic, balanced with an intimate look at faith, doubt and the conviction of one’s beliefs. Askew mixes rhyming verse with contemporary language that may initially seem a strange choice but serves to make the sheer futility and horror that any belief taken to extremes can cause.

There is real chemistry between Richard Bremmer and Laura Pyper – sparring back and forth, both unshakeable of their respective beliefs. Bremmer evokes the fire and brimstone conviction of Hopkins, shaken when his trial cast doubts on his own methods. Pyper builds on the inner strength of Malkin, more than able to match Hopkins’ status and, ultimately, triumphing and finding her true faith.

Perfectly pitched, Necessary Evil is a remarkable play that gives an insight into one of East Anglia’s darkest hours but also brings a timeless relevancy to the piece. While there are arguments about faith and belief, there will always be those who are convinced their beliefs justify inhumanity to others. Necessary Evil acts as a salutary reminder of the futility such inhumanity ultimately brings.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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