Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Ockendon Witch – Hoar Frost productions | Review

The Ockendon Witch – Hoar Frost productions | Review

Agnes Byllinge

Set in 1584, The Ockendon Witch recounts the case of Agnes Byllinge (Jennifer Aries), accused of both witchcraft and incest. There’s the now familiar Brady Bunch style Zoom meeting format of court proceedings, though the costumes and background images are commensurate with the sixteenth-century setting. The dialogue is broadly fitting but is suitable for a twenty-first-century audience, with no need to look terms or phrases up, though the quaintness of the vocabulary raises a smile on occasion, such as when Byllinge makes a counteraccusation against Humphrey Frith (Dickon Farmar), telling the court he “thrust his hand upon my petticoat” and “revealed his appendage”.

The play sticks simply to the charges against Byllinge, without any changes of scene or discussions with other characters outside court – this isn’t exactly The Crucible, which in a way is a slight pity, if only because the audience is denied a dramatization of the purported events that led to Byllinge being in court. Neither do we hear from Byllinge’s teenage son. Therefore, court proceedings being what they are, the play is all exposition. Besides Frith, the only other witness for the prosecution is Judith Foster (Libby Rodliffe). Byllinge isn’t exactly subjected to cross-examination but nonetheless, Roger Nowell JP’s (Christopher Sherwood) judgement is reasoned and authoritative.

Some of the proceedings were, frankly, laughable, though it would be giving too much away if I explained further. The women here are given fair chance to speak, and are permitted to finish their points uninterrupted, which in some respects makes their treatment fairer than that afforded to some women in the modern criminal justice system. I will leave it to those more qualified than me to determine whether this is something of an indictment on contemporary society or if it’s simply a narrative device used here to get the salient points of the case across without too many asides and disruptions. Perhaps it is both.

It would appear not much else appears to be known of Byllinge aside from these accusations, and so the production chooses not to speculate beyond its (re)imagining of her trial. It ends abruptly, the audience being spared the aftermath of Nowell’s verdict. It was, by dramatic standards, an unusual conclusion, perhaps even a slight anti-climax, but a refreshing departure from the use of proverbial sledgehammers to crack nuts. A brief but discerning production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s 1584 and Agnes Byllinge of South Ockendon, Essex, has been brought before a virtual court facing accusations of witchcraft and incest. The threat to her is serious, and deadly. Will she defy the odds or find herself hanging by the neck until life is extinct?

Based on the real trials of Agnes Byllinge, this digital piece imagines how things might have unfolded if by some witchcraft it was conducted virtually during a sixteenth-century plague lockdown. Animals are dying, people have suffered inexplicable illnesses and Agnes is to blame, or so the villagers claim. Then there is the unusual relationship with her son. Is she guilty of witchcraft and incest, or is she merely a scapegoat? You decide…

Agnes Byllinge – Jennifer Aries
Judith Foster – Libby Rodliffe
Humphrey Frith – Dickon Farmar
Roger Nowell JP – Christopher Sherwood

Music performed by Lauren Joyanne Morris
Written and Executive Produced by Richard Margrave
Directed, Produced and Edited by Christopher Sherwood



Scroll to Top