Gunter ★★★★★

Dirty Hare’s award-winning production of Gunter transfers to London following its sold-out premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2023.

According to the history books it seems the main thing that happened in 1605 was a plot to kill the king, everything else was just a subplot. One true story that perked Historian Lydia Higman’s eye, was the story of Anne Gunter, a story they felt needed to be told. About another kind of deception taking place, forgotten until now.

Gunter is a retelling of a witch hunt and feigned possession in 1604-1605, in a small village in Oxford. After Brian Gunter, richest man in the town, murders two brothers at a football game, his daughter Anne begins to act possessed, the obvious reason for this strange behaviour, according to Brian, is that, Elizabeth Gregory, the mother of the two boys has put a spell on and bewitched Anne, appearing to her as her familiar, a bear.

All images by Alex Brenner

Gunter expertly moves between moments of comedy and sheer horror, as well as musical interludes to indie rock, country ballads and a Lin Manuel Miranda style Scottish courtroom rap. It is theatre that is able to move you to tears, make you laugh and bop your head to haunting original songs.

The cast of three multi-talented actors are exceptional. In their white football kits, they are reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Moving from one character to another, Witch to the bewitched, child to country singer, man to beast, they integrate with the meta-theatrical and musical style, keeping the audience laughing one minute and gasping the next. As an ensemble watching them work is a beauty to behold. It is a genuinely horrific story that breaks your heart, makes you laugh and scares you with the power of mob mentality and power of hearsay.

The three actors each take on a principal role. Hannah Jarrett-Scott embodies Brian Gunter. It is a terrifying portrayal that at times leads the audience to pity the ridiculous monster with a fragile ego. Creator and actor Julia Grogan is Elizabeth, the mother, accused, broken but not going down without a fight and Norah Lopez Holden is Anne, the possessed. All three have such a great power in physicality and you can’t emphasise watching Lopez Holden writhe on the floor as they are filled with demonic possession, a testimony to Aline David’s choreography.

The instrument-playing narrator/historian and creator of the piece, Higman, holds your hand throughout, like stabilisers to the events that occurred, akin to a TedTalk, sometimes you want to shake the hand away and tackle it on your own.

Dirty Hare creates a masterclass in answering the question: how do you present a possession on stage ? There are moments, especially when nails are included, in which you feel compelled to look away. At times, however, the use of multimedia feels a little too much and it could do with toning down, and getting back to the story. You can’t help but applaud the risks taken and the creative insight of Director, Rachel Lemon, to have the bravery to open up the stage and play so much within such a bizarre stimulus. They succeed in creating a symbiosis between this 1605 story and a more contemporary backdrop, white football kits and knee pads included.

There is shock and awe in this retelling of a witch hunt. After a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe and with the backing and support of Royal Court, Dirty Hare, have created in Gunter a compelling tale; football, vomiting needles, gyrating with maple syrup and levitation. What’s not to like?

A visceral and bewitching ★★★★★ 5 stars

Gunter Tickets

Gunter runs at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs until Thu 25 Apr 

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