Photograph: Richard Davenport
Hannah Hutch stars in Jane Wenham: The Witch of Wenham. Photograph: Richard Davenport

The decision to cancel a performance of a play co-produced by the Arcola has been described as “akin to censorship”.

Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern was due to be performed at Ipswich High School for Girls on 13 October before it emerged the performance had been cancelled due to concerns about its content.

The play, which is touring small venues outside London before a run at the Arcola in January, looks at accusations of witchcraft in 18th-century Hertfordshire from a feminist perspective.

Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the co-writer of Oscar-winning film Ida, the play looks at what happens after a woman is blamed for a tragic death and charged with witchcraft.

A statement by Out of Joint explained it had made the story of the cancellation public because “decisions akin to censorship should not be made easily or without consequence, and should be known about”.

Max Stafford-Clark, Out of Joint’s Artistic Director said: “It is deeply troubling that a play which so eloquently examines witch persecutions from a feminist perspective, and looks at the way society treated and continues to treat women, is considered inappropriate for an audience of young women.

“The school has also said that the inclusion of swearing is inappropriate, a policy which presumably rules out much contemporary drama or fiction for study. There is nothing gratuitous in the play. Theatre is the way we examine our world and our history. The school’s decision not to learn from the past seems spectacularly perverse.”

But a spokesperson for the independent girls’ school defended the decision, saying that it had been prompted by a change of personnel at the school.

“The new teachers in the drama department reviewed the script on their arrival at the school this September, and had grave reservations about the content and inferences,” the spokesperson said.

“The concern about the use of swear words was secondary to the references made to child abuse which are explicitly detailed.

“Teachers have a legal duty of care which includes being aware of the content of their work and the impact it may have on children, young people or vulnerable adults.”

The axing of the play follows the furore surrounding Homegrown, the National Youth Theatre play about Islamic radicalisation that was pulled two weeks before it opened.

Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern is co-produced by the Arcola Theatre, Out of Joint and Watford Palace Theatre, in association with Eastern Angles.


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