Top storytelling paints a market so real you can almost smell the fresh fish
The Wee Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.
In a show that slips confidently from light to creepy shade, Cowie makes unexpected connections between past and present.
There is a legend from my hometown, Ayr, that a 17th century witch built a house on the high street in just one night, with the Devil’s assistance. Today, nearly a quarter of the shops on Ayr high street are empty – the town holds one of the highest shop vacancy rates in Britain. The plot the witch was said to have built on is doing alright though – number 82 – Marks and Spencer.
With the support of Ayrshire Historian, Halima Campbell and Musician Neil Sutcliffe, storyteller Shona Cowie has been unpacking this legend and discovered that surprisingly, some of the story is true. It has at its center a real woman, a 17th century entrepreneur named Maggie Osbourne who built and ran a successful business on that plot. She was responsible for bringing significant wealth and employment to the town, when it was one of Scotland’s richest, and for her skill, power and for being a woman, she was executed as a witch on the high street just opposite her business, number 82. The Legend has deep roots, Burn’s himself would have heard of Maggie, Halima has found a rare link citing her as the inspiration for Nancy the Witch who chases Tam o’Shanter across the Doon river. It also has resonance today, generally in the treatment of alternative thinkers and specifically, as many local areas and councils struggle to understand and support innovative local businesses.
Maggie’s story deserved reconstruction and by doing so we've reckoned with some major issues around the denouncement of the label ‘witch’, the treatment of women and those considered ‘other’ who gain power, corruption in governance, as well as genuinely asking the audience; what do you want from your high streets and public centres?
Images: Chloé Harrison, Elly Lucas
Film: Bex Sherwood, Giulia Candussi