Granite Noir 2022
Updated: Mar 25
ABERDEEN’S FAVOURITE CRIME WRITING FESTIVAL REVIEWED
A Ten Feet Tall production
by Miles Stebens
Witch Hunt is a relatively short, but in no way less gripping, theatre production about the story of Janet Horne, the last person to be legally executed for witchcraft in Scotland in the 18th century. Janet Horne is introduced as a woman who has magical powers: she can cure beasts, bless crops as well as curse them, and bend the weather to her will - allegedly. With a new sheriff in town who believes in, and disdains, witchcraft, Janet’s safety is quickly compromised. Upon accusation by her neighbours, she is imprisoned and chained up in a dungeon where she is tortured psychologically as well as physically – she is refused sleep until she confesses to be guilty of witchcraft. Her daughter is implicated in aiding her in her witchy endeavours; both are accused of having conversed with and serving the devil.
The production features excerpts from The Last Witch, a play written by Aberdonian playwright Rona Munro. The dramatised performance was a hoot to watch: brilliant acting, crude jokes, and staged in the atmospherically fitting Mither Kirk, which the historic church, The Kirk of St Nicholas, is lovingly known as.
The return of Aberdeen’s famous Crime Writing Festival, Granite Noir, brought many brilliant events to the city of Aberdeen during a cold February weekend. Among these was Aberdeen-based theatre company Ten Feet Tall’s latest production: Witch Hunt.
Funny though the performance was, it didn’t shy away from calling out the practice of witch-hunting that was prevalent throughout Europe between the 16th and 18th century. As a viewer, one really felt the injustice of Janet’s situation, how she was denounced on the basis of nothing by a neighbour and subsequently burned for her ‘crimes’ – all due to superstition and fear of the unknown and inexplicable. Janet is shunned as an outsider of the community she is a part of, and tortured until she confesses to somethings she did not do. There was no way for her to win or even try to plead her case – as soon as she was labelled a witch, her fate was sealed.
It is interesting to see this play staged in 2022. Centuries away from the witch trials, Janet Horne’s situation still resonates with those voices that are silenced every day because of their position within society. From rape trials to revenge porn scandals taking place in our century, the play still rings true to those on whom justice systematically turns the other cheek. In the end, this play serves both as a creative verbatim of what happened to Janet in her time, while still remaining in conversation with power imbalances of the present. Once a witch, always a witch.
photo courtesy of Conor Gault
Hounds of the Baskervilles
by Kathleen Richards
I went to see Hounds of the Baskervilles expecting an over-the-top panto: I can say now that the show delivered. Among the events offered during the Granite Noir festival, this one stood out to me – you need something light and fun after attending intense talks with authors, preoccupied with everything from murder, to climate disaster. When I sat down, I knew I was in for a treat. The cast, small yet energetic, featured talented actors capable of switching costumes at an impressive rate. The humour was not always on point though. My only criticism is that, in an attempt to go for that incessant slap-stick comedy effect, the comedic tone was often overdone. Still, the element of surprise in including a social media input and re-making the first act again was hilarious, something that highlights the weight of social media and, at the same time, breaks the fourth wall. This was an enjoyable show overall. It can do with slower paces at times, giving the viewer time to digest the bits of humour the talented cast throw their way.
Influencers, Activists and Rebels
by Rory Buccheri
Momentous and riveting as a great book should be, the Influencers, Activists and Rebels event held at the Central Library was one of my favourites this year. The guests, talented Lauren James and Laura Lam, shared with the attendees the drive behind their books (respectively Green Rising and the Seven Devils series), the focus on climate activism and on taking positive steps. Consciously turning away from narratives of climate apocalypse, both writers used their stories as examples of literature bridging the gap that humanity is facing: finding hope and the strength to go forward. The tone of the event remained light until the end, with both Lauren and Laura discussing future projects that have a collaborative element planned. It is safe to say that whatever comes next for these two writers, it will be thrilling. The saddest note of the event was when the authors were asked whether their creative work intersects with politics; Lauren replied that she doesn’t engage with politics and tries to stay away from it as much as possible. I am left with a bittersweet taste when comparing the great advocacy these authors commit to, and the power they bestow on literature (especially contemporary, YA and sci-fi), to their detachment with the political sphere. I believe this is symptomatic of a generation of young people who prefer to talk grassroot activism, action through empathy, rather than turning to the political ugliness of this era; I can understand and forgive Lauren for that.
Both books feature issues of intersection, whether with first wave feminist ideas or migration to space, they tackle key social issues of today that intersect heavily with climate change. As Laura pointed out, it is unthinkable to set these phenomena aside when, for example, a great flux of migration is caused by climate disaster affecting certain areas. Still, there is fierceness and hope when discussing the hard times we are living in. Literature teaches us to take things into our own hands, and both authors are a brilliant example of that passion and drive to change things.
When approaching a festival as rich and dense as Granite Noir, one is justified in sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting for the magic to happen. If 2022 is the year of climate dread, where the noir meets the melting glaciers, the event with Laura and Lauren sprinkled a wee bit of hope into that mix.
Aberdeen's beloved crime writing festival ran Thursday-Sunday 24th-27th of February.