Edinburgh Fringe Q&A: Gunter

DIRTY HARE, the team behind Gunter, tell Fest about the production's origins in a true story and how it provides an understanding of those who believed in witchcraft – and of those who found themselves accused

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 7 minutes
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Published 29 Jul 2023

Tell us about your show and what audiences can expect? 

Gunter is a reconstruction of an unbelievable, but real, 1604 possession case. It is the story of Anne Gunter; a 19 year old who seemingly becomes possessed. Her father, Brian Gunter, is determined to have another woman, Elizabeth, executed for witchcraft. Audiences can expect lots of music, folk singing and lots of deep dives into the depths of Anne’s strange and extraordinary story. 

Can you talk about some of the creative team involved?

The story was brought to Rachel Lemon and Julia Grogan by Lydia Higman who was completely obsessed with it. And the rest is history. Since, we have been making this as a unit – growing the show over the last year. It is a truly collaborative process: Julia is mainly a writer, Rachel mainly a director and Lydia mostly a historian and musician – but we all have done bits of all of it really. 

Norah Lopez Holden joined us at the beginning of the year to play Anne Gunter, and has since become an integral part of the making process. Hannah Jarrett-Scott came on recently, she’s an extraordinary musician and performer and has been an amazing part of bringing our show to life. 

There are loads of other people who have worked on the making of our show: particularly actor Letty Thomas, magician Patrick Ashe, movement director Aline David, design consultancy by Anna Orton. And all our magical friends and artists who have watched bits and bobs along the way. 

Where do you draw inspiration from for your work, both in terms of creation and performance?

I’d say that our main source of inspiration is history. We can’t really look away from it as it is usually our source material for our shows. Lyndal Roper has done a lot of really cool history stuff. But then how we go about bringing that history to audiences brings a whole new set of influences. I (Rachel) watch lots of drag and cabaret, which is where I draw a lot of influence from. I guess we all sit somewhere between enjoying plays but also performance art, which leads to our work sitting somewhere in between. You wouldn’t catch us behind a kitchen sink, but then we also can’t do anything like swallow knives. So we’ve found a happy medium. I guess I am mostly influenced by people who think deeply about their audience in the making process, for that reason I love clowns (Dr Brown, Natalie Palamides). 

Looking at this production, how would you say it links to previous work personally and thematically?

As a company we are interested in stories from the past that speak to now, which also feels true of this production. It’s a story from 1604 but the themes are still very much present in society now. We care about interrogating power, male power, why men have so much power, sexuality, structural inequality and you’ll see that in this too as well as in our previous show (Belly Up).

I think we also all have a fundamental belief that theatre should care about and be for its audience. So I hope that the piece feels live, connected and for an audience – as I hope past work has also been.  

Why is this an important story to tell?

Something our historian Lydia has always said in the making of this show is that history rhymes.

Lydia makes our company more awake to the idea that history isn’t linear, it doesn’t just progress, it reappears in different forms. It’s sneaky like that. We feel Anne’s story is important to tell because she was a real person and what happened to her must have been really, really, really horrible. And sad. And even though we’re way too late there is some sort of retribution in showing a small Edinburgh Fringe audience Brian Gunter’s true colours. Hopefully her story still 'rhymes' 400 years later – and people might be a little bit more open to noticing the same patterns and, maybe, having the bravery to confront them.  

What would you like audiences to take away from seeing this production at the Fringe?

Witches have haunted the human imagination with remarkable persistence, and we hope people walk away with a new perspective on that witch with the black hat and the cat. We hope audiences walk away with more understanding of those who believed in witchcraft and of those who found themselves accused. We hope people walk out into the night after seeing Gunter, holding the final image of Anne in their head, and go and have a good messy liberating dance. Or, failing that, tell a friend that Anne Gunter existed and tell them what happened to her. 

Do you tend to take inspiration from events happening in the world around you in terms of your work? Do you think artists have a responsibility to respond to what's happening?

We’re definitely shaped by what happens around us. I suppose as a company that works with history, we’re very interested in how it rhymes and repeats in the now. We get angry alot. I think that’s useful, so our work has an energy of ‘OK cool, why’s this still happening?’.

In terms of artists having a responsibility to respond to what’s happening, I think artists are sensitive folk and to carry a responsibility like that can be a very heavy weight. Do I think we should constantly be dragging up old plays from the past that we can’t learn from? Maybe not. Is it annoying when work like that is constantly funded? Yes.

The current climate can be hard to be in, if an artist’s work makes me laugh, or cry or takes me to a completely different world that bears no relevance to my own – then that escape can be equally as powerful as the political. As a company, we do try and do a bit of both. We make it our responsibility to agitate and dig into issues that affect us. We’re also constantly thinking of our audience in the process though, our responsibility is to entertain. Anything beyond that is up to our audience. 

How do you feel about the current arts landscape in your country and your part in it? Does it excite you and inspire you to keep pushing the boat out?

Quite terrible. There are extraordinary artists surrounding us but trying to get work made is like banging your head against a brick wall. It is such a shame that the state of things means that people who are really, really good will end up leaving the industry because everything about it is telling you it’s a bad idea. No replies to emails and no continued development for artists are among the many problems our industry has. Artists that continue despite all of this inspire me, artists that work with young people inspire me, but also the artists that don’t continue because it is verging on impossible inspire me. And I say this as a white woman, so I realise it’s easier for me than lots of people.  

Why are arts festivals such as the Fringe so important for international exchange?

Festivals like the Fringe are vital for bringing creatives together globally. We rarely get to engage with work outside the walls of a dodgy rehearsal space. So we’re very excited to get inspired and see what work people are making, what boundaries people are pushing. The Fringe is a beautiful space to learn from other artists, to support each other and hammer home how important theatre is internationally. It’s an exciting space. The opportunity to network and potentially collaborate with new artists is something we’re very excited about. 
Have you got your eye on any other shows that are part of the programme?

Salty Irina at Plaines Plough looks mega!  

How can Edinburgh audiences keep up with you beyond the festival?

To be honest, we have chaos energy so you have to bare with us. But we do have twitter @dirtyhare_ and if we are doing anything we will always post on there!