Brian Beacom

WITCHES are all the rage this week in Glasgow.

Des Dillon’s tale of Coatbridge comedy black magic, Six Black Candles, is running at the Pavilion while Oran Mor’s offering delves back to rather darker times.

The Witches of West Fife by Jane Livingstone (who wrote the very successful and funny Jocky Wilson Said last Oran Mor season) follows two story lines.

“The play begins in modern times when three Fifer women in their forties are working on a Macbeth film as Witches,” says actress Clare Waugh.

“They are not professionals - they’d probably rather be enjoying a pamper day.”

Clare plays Mags, Sally Reid is Janet and Kirsten McLean plays Isabel.

“But then the play cuts back in time to Dunfermline in the early 17th century to the time when Shakespeare comes up with Macbeth.”

The backdrop to Macbeth, we learn from this play, is the practise of witchpricking which took place in Fife.

“King James 1 was known as the Witchhunter. Once while in Denmark he came to learn about witches and believed in this dark power.

“He believed witches were responsible for some of the havoc in his life own life and went on to write a book about demonology.

“But he then commanded Shakespeare to include witches in his new play.”

King James 1’s belief in the dark arts saw the lives of thousands of Scots women destroyed.

“The witchprickers were men sent to discover the witches. They would poke needles into the body and if the women screamed they weren’t a witch.

“But of course, the more they were stabbed with needles, the less they screamed because they passed out. It was a horrendous period in Scots history.”

The accusation of witchcraft was an opportunity to abuse and murder.

“There is a scene in the play in which Jock Campbell’s cow’s milk has dried up, so he cites this as an example of witchcraft.

“And what’s really tragic is this practice continued in Scotland well into the 18th century.”

But if all this sounds very dark, it has to be said the Oran play has it’s (much) lighter moments.

The three hugely talented actresses find fun in the modern-day characters, the Fife women who are out of their depth in the film world.

“It means there is dark and light,” says Clare.

But the play also offers insight into how Shakespeare was manipulated by King James to include witchcraft in his work. Was his morality in question? Was he in fear for his own life?

Yet, how could someone go against this royal belief that witchcraft existed?

“That’s so true,” says Clare, who has been starring in theatre hit Casablanca this year, as well as Morag Fullerton’s comedy Doris, Dolly and the Dressing Room Divas.

“You have this herd mentality. And it was so much easier to go along with the command.”

It also begs the question if Macbeth would have been such a successful play had the witches not been included.

Yet, what’s interesting is Glasgow in 2017 is staging two plays, one which shows witchcraft to be a pernicious evil perpetrated against women. . .

And the other sees women practise a little witchcraft for evil intent.

Isn’t it wonderful to see how we’ve progressed as a society?

“At least the Coatbridge witches won’t be stabbed for practising it,” says Clare, grinning.

However, the Oran Mor actresses can enjoy a real challenge of performance. Sally Reid also plays Lilian, who manages to escape the witchpicking thanks to a freak accident.

And Cupar-born Clare once again turns out as a man. “It’s great fun,” she says. “But there’s another challenge.

“When we go back in time the characters have to speak in olde worldly Scots. And that’s been a bit tricky to learn, a bit like Shakespeare in that sense.

“But you know what’s really great about this play? For the first time ever I get to play a Fyfer.”

• The Witches of West Fife, Oran Mor, until Saturday.