‘They call me witch. A teeth-gnasher. A shape-shifter. When a man says a woman turns into a hare, it means she were too quick for him!’ Based on a 19th century Sussex tale, Sary is a piece of feminist folk-horror that explores themes of female sexuality, ageing and loss as kinds of alchemy. Running in Edinburgh during the Fringe, director, Sam Chittenden spoke with The Fountain about what to expect from the show as well as the key influences behind the project.

TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?  

Yes, I love Scotland.  We are all delighted to be coming to Edinburgh, both to share our work with audiences here, and to seek out other new and exciting theatre.

TF: Sary certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise? 

Sary is a piece of English Eerie or Folk Horror. It is based on the 19th century Sussex tale of Ol’ Sary Weaver, who was said to turn into a hare at night. In my version of the story, Sary is a sassy woman whom circumstance has given a raw deal.  But she takes control of her life, rather than being a victim, and I hope we offer a feminist slant on the folk horror genre. I have tried to explore themes of female sexuality, ageing, and loss as kinds of shapeshifting.

TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie? 

I found the story of Sary in a book of Sussex legends and was intrigued.  Why do people get accused of shapeshifting or witchcraft?  What does it mean if a woman turns into a hare?  What might prompt her to want to hide from the world like that?  

As I started writing, it became clear that this was going to be a story of different kinds of shapeshifting, including ageing, and that this meant us seeing older and younger versions of the same character. I was keen to write the piece in a way that suggested that Sary was both young and old at the same time, with a sense of alchemy pervading it. I also wanted to include some of the delightful Sussex dialect that Sary would have used, so I did some research around that. The other element in the mix was to use words from the old Anglo Saxon poem The Names of The Hare, which has added to the lyrical tone of the piece. 

The next challenge was to find two actors who could credibly play the same woman. I needn’t have worried, as I was lucky enough to find two great actors, Sharon Drain and Rebecca Jones, who share a very particular look.  We developed the physicality of the piece together, and had great fun in the rehearsal room building on the relationship Sary has with her older/younger self.

Folk songs were also an important influence, including An Acre of Land and (naturally) Hares on the Mountain. Simon Scardanelli created a haunting soundscape for us using these themes.

TF: Have you been to the Fringe before, is there anything you are keen to see whilst in Edinburgh? 

This (along with Metamorphosis, which we are also bringing) is my first Edinburgh show, although I have previously attended as a punter and reviewer. I am especially looking forward to seeing Dressed (This Egg), The Desk (Reetta Honkakoski Company) and Drawn and Quartered (Cry Havoc) and I am hoping to catch lots of friends and colleagues in their shows – Fannytasticals, Antidepressed, Quintessence and Happy Never After to name but a few. There are already so many shows on my ‘to-see’ list!  I am also planning to get along to the Art Gallery and to do a bit of proper tourism.  Hopefully get some sleep too….!

TF: And what are your future plans beyond Sary

I am currently working with my husband Simon Scardanelli on some more songs for my show Clean, for which I won Best New Play at Brighton Fringe this year.  We are planning to turn it into a full musical.  I am also finalising my first full length play (a futuristic piece about the nature of memory) and working on a couple of ideas for new fringe shows.   I tend to have a number of things at different stages of evolution.  My biggest challenge is focusing….!

You can see Sary at Sweet Novotel from 2nd – 25th August (Not 7th, 14th or 21st) at 17:00. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com