Madness, murder, and even the old English folk tradition of Morris dancing are all in the mix in a new student-written production soon to open at Vashon High School (VHS).
Penned by VHS senior Phoebe Ray, “The Witch of Edmonton” re-imagines a 1621 English Jacobean play of the same name.
Last August, Ray was commissioned to write the show by Andy James, who is closing out his second year as the theater teacher at VHS.
While planning the 2022-2023 school year’s production season, James considered staging the 17th-century tale of witchcraft, written by Thomas Dekker, John Ford, and William Rowley.
However, despite the intriguing premise, the script felt like it was missing something. The play seemed ripe for an update, so James reached out to Ray, who agreed to be the author of this project.
“None of the characters in the original felt quite right,” Ray said. “Their intentions and relationships all felt off. So in the beginning, Mr. James and I would just sit there and ask hundreds of ‘what if’ questions. ‘What if Frank is afraid of his father? What if Elizabeth was once in love? What if Cuddy forgets everything?’ And so on. As I wrote answers to these questions, little by little, the play became a completely different story. It’s hardly the same play from 1621.”
The play is still set, though, in the dreary town of Edmonton— a place where old grudges and strange superstitions run as deep as the river that rolls through it.
One such tale is that of Old Tom — a chaotic creature who roams the countryside in search of dirty deeds to be done.
Witches, of course, provide a perfect target for Old Tom, leading him to Elizabeth Sawyer, an outcast and the subject of many local rumors, despite her desire to lead a quiet, uninterrupted life.
The play — despite its themes of scapegoating, capitalism, corruption, and gossip — is, at its heart, about truth, Ray said, pointing out the show’s tagline: “A known true story.”
The cast, a tight-knit troupe of 15 VHS students who are all stepping into their parts with an embrace of the unexpected, were eager to share their insights about the script.
“Shifting morals are really big in it,” said Chris Wechkin, who plays the title character of Elizabeth, the witch. “What is collectively thought of as right and wrong is not always true.”
Wechkin described the character of Elizabeth as “guarded and cautious around people, but … sure of herself. She just wants to stay safe.”
“It’s a humorously twisted tale of witches, devil dogs, and a town that is hiding just a little bit too much,” said Ella Saffery, who plays the role of Susan Carter, a quiet hero of the story.
Saffrey described her character as very honest.
“She’s a gentle character but will tell the truth even when people don’t want to hear it … which will get her in trouble a few times,” she said.
Japhy Tsiatsenhoven, who is taking on the tragicomic role of Frank Thorney, pointed out the play’s absurdist bent.
“It’s .. almost Monty Python-esque in places,” Tsiatsenhoven said.
Another student performer, Isaac Huff, said that he loved what Ray had done with “weird, old script.”
“I’m obsessed with all the characters. I’m just obsessed with her writing. I think it’s fantastic. I would be in a million student-led, student-written plays. More teenagers should be writing,” Huff said.
“The Witch of Edmonton” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 19 and 20, and 1 p.m. Sunday, May 21, at Vashon High School’s theater. Viewer discretion is advised, due to graphic violence and strong language.
Tickets, available for purchase at the door, are $12 for general admission, and $10 for students.