Heaven Burns the Roxy

Mar 14 2018 | By More

McGregor wins 2018 Assembly Roxy Theatre Award

Edinburgh-based playwright Jen McGregor has won this year’s Assembly Roxy Theatre Award for her script Heaven Burns, which will now be staged at the Roxy during this year’s Edinburgh fringe.

The award is for emerging Scottish based performance companies who are wanting to create new work to debut at the fringe. The prize provides up to £5,500 worth of support in kind, including registration fees, rehearsal space, and development and promotional support.

Jen McGregor. Pic: Chris Scott

Heaven Burns is set in Morayshire in 1662 and starts from the true story of Christian Caddell a woman who falsified her identity and passed herself off as John Dixon a notorious witchpricker.

As Dixon, Caddell claimed to be able to find out witches by their “devil’s mark” a place where a pin could be stuck in the body without pain or drawing blood.

Believing that she is carrying out God’s work by torturing those accused of witchcraft, Christian (John Dixon) and her assistant Isobel Gowdie, go on to do terrible things…

McGregor told Æ: “the inspiration came from years as a ghost tour guide and then learning Christian Caddell’s story from Susan Morrison when I started working with the history festival. She basically dared me to do it!”

First outing

The script had its first outing in 2015, when it was staged as a rehearsed reading of a work in progress for the history festival: Previously.

Burning witches

Speaking of the ART award, McGregor said: “I’ve been fascinated by the Scottish witch hunts for most of my life and I love to write substantial roles for women, so when I learned about the existence of Christian Caddell I was immediately struck by the dramatic potential of the character.

“What kind of radicalism and religious fervour would drive someone to do the things she did? I’m delighted to have this chance to explore her story and bring it to the Fringe.”

McGregor, who has yet to cast the play, will be directing it herself and working with Flavia D’Avila as movement director. The pair have been working together “on and off” since they met at Queen Margaret, but most recently McGregor has been something of a guinea pig for D’Avila’s trans-cultural project Eme-Bal for which she created Volante in 2016.


McGregor told Æ: “My writing tends to be densely texty and I live in fear of my characters becoming talking heads, so having someone on board who respects the writing but isn’t afraid to prioritise living, moving bodies is an excellent counterbalance.

“The theatrical tradition that she (D’Avila) comes from is very different to my own, so I know I can rely on her to bring a different approach to mine and to keep me on my toes. We’ve always been good at encouraging each other to up our respective games.”

Flavia D’Avila. Pic: RCS

Speaking of the award, William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Festival said: “We are delighted that Heaven Burns has won this year’s ART award.

“We hope that this will prove to be a fantastic opportunity for Jen and her team and we are looking forward to working closely with everyone involved, to ensure that the play is a tremendous success.”

The inaugural 2017 ART Award was won by Andy Edwards for Scribble – a piece of new writing about mental health and supernovas, directed by Amy Gilmartin.


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