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Witch report is a spooky success

It is dark, direct and very disturbing. Witch Child - a theatrical adaptation of the best-selling children's novel by former teacher Celia Rees - hits the stage with all the suspense of the written word.

A Taliesin Arts Centre production, on tour throughout Wales until November 19, the play is aimed at an audience aged 11 and above.

The production is directed by Derek Cobley, who was a principal teacher adviser for West Glamorgan education authority, specialising in drama and the role of the arts in education.

The sole character, Mary, is played by Tonya Smith, from Swansea. Set in the 17th century, it tells how 14-year-old Mary's life is made unbearable by the horrors of being branded a witch.

Mary decides to flee persecution in England after her grandmother is condemned for having special healing powers. But when she reaches Massachusetts, along with a group of pilgrims, Mary realises that here, too, she is a target for the superstition and fanaticism of the New World.

Ms Smith brings Mary vividly to life with a variety of voices. Using only a few props, this is a drama of the imagination, taking us from the harrowing execution of her grandmother to the creaking, stinking hull of a ship full of Puritans bound for the New World.

Her description of bringing a newborn baby back from the brink of death brings tears to the eyes. Her impression of a spittle-flecked preacher searching for the devil's spawn freezes the blood.

Mary writes in her diary as an escape and as a way of making sense of the madness around her.

"Words are power," Mary says, as she frantically hides the torn pages of her journal in a newly-made quilt - words that will be found centuries later to act as witness to a suspicious and superstitious time.

Mr Cobley said: "I thought this book would make a hugely dramatic play, and in adapting it we have not changed the story in any shape or form - what you hear on stage are actually the words of the novel. Celia really likes what we have done to it."

Celia Rees's other novels and short stories include Pirates!, City of Shadows, The Bailey Game and Sorcerers, the sequel to Witch Child. The play will be seen in Blackwood, Abergavenny, Harlech, Pwllheli and Holyhead before the end of its current run.

For details tel: 01792 296883

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