Heaven Burns

Aug 21 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆      Fiery history

Assembly Roxy (Venue 139): Thurs 2 – Mon 27 Aug 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Heaven Burns, Jen McGregor’s exploration of some of the murkier corners of Scottish history at the Assembly Roxy, has a dark and spooky feel. Its power is not always sustained, but it nevertheless has considerable impact.

It is based on the true story of a Fife woman called Christian Caddell, who turned up in 1660s Moray in the guise of a witch-pricker called John Dickson (witch-prickers being people armed with needles who poked suspects all over until they found what they thought to be the mark of the devil).

Heaven Burns Assembly Roxy EdFringe 2018 Marion Geoffray and Susanna Mulvihill. Pic Chris Scott

Marion Geoffray and Susanna Mulvihill. Pic: Chris Scott

It also makes use of the character of Isobel Gowdie, perhaps Scotland’s most famous suspected witch.

The story is undoubtedly a fascinating one, and McGregor’s script is full of nastycorners and fittingly loaded language. Susanna Mulvihill is a convincing Caddell, utterly sure she is doing God’s work, even if it means deceiving, torturing and ultimately letting others die.

Marion Geoffray’s Gowdie, here employed by ‘Dickson’ as a maid and riven by conflicting feelings, is another compelling characterisation, while Andrew Findlater provides strong support. McGregor’s direction is taut and powerful.

The only real problem with the play is that the situation is set up so economically that much of the tension evaporates too early, leaving the second half of the narrative with correspondingly little energy. Instead, it ends with a couple of monologues that – while well done in themselves – do not provide a satisfactory dramatic conclusion.


Gowdie’s monologue in particular seems to be detached from the rest of the play, and not wholly in keeping with how the character has been presented earlier.

However, much of this is successful. There is a definite atmosphere of claustrophobia and the portrayal of someone for whom ‘reasons’ are more important than facts also has a definite contemporary resonance.

Running time 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy Downstairs (Venue 139), 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Thursday 2 – Monday 27 August 2018
Daily (not Tue 14) at 12.35 pm.
Book tickets on the Fringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/heaven-burns
Jen McGregor website: https://jenmcgregor.com
Twitter: @JenBitesPeople


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