Today we’re joined for a Digital Pint by the team behind HEXENHAMMER which lands at VAULT Festival tonight! The piece takes inspiration from Die Hexenhammer, a 15th Century Guide to Witch-Hunting. Turning the idea on its head, the performance duo at Secretariat are donning their Monk’s Habits and performing as the two authors of the book, who are described by the show as maybe the original incels. We sat down for a pixelated pint with the duo to catch up ahead of the show’s launch this evening.
Catch HEXENHAMMER until 11th February at 22:40, 16:10 and 22:10 at VAULT Festival. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hi guys! Your show is loosely based on the 15th century witch hunting guide ‘Die Hexenhammer’, and you both play the German monks who wrote it. What inspired you to create the piece?
“The seeds for HEXENHAMMER were sewn in 2019 – 3 years into the Trump presidency, 7 years after the horrific Isla Vita massacre perpetuated by Elliot Rodgers, just 1 year after the incel van attack in Toronto and the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we developed the piece the Portsmouth incel attack happened. 12 states across the US are now enforcing a near-total ban on abortion with very limited exceptions. 2019 also felt like the height of the Jordan Peterson craze. His 2018 interview with Joe Rogan has now garnered 22 million views on YouTube. One of our partners at the time was going down the YouTube rabbit hole and we were watching this subtle radicalisation happen in real-time. Young men we were training with in drama school at the time all had copies of 12 Rules for Life.
We found ourselves constantly talking about and trying to understand this phenomenon because, frankly, we were scared. It wasn’t clear how any of our chats or reading would manifest as a piece of theatre until we came across the authors of Die Hexenhammer in the footnotes of the brilliant feminist treatise ‘Witches, Midwives and Nurses’ by Barbara Eldridge. We both come from comedy backgrounds, and it became clear that we had to play these guys – that we had to make a crazy dark comedy in order to begin to even touch on the themes we wanted to explore and that they were our way into exploring what felt like this new bullrush of misogyny.
The show takes aim at the role of technology in misogyny, considering online so-called ‘incels’ and Reddit chatrooms. What does the show have to say here and what are you hoping people take away from it?
“We were disturbed by how the new technological landscape of the past decade has allowed people to create very lucrative personal brands based around deeply misogynistic ideology, building a cult-like following. How this new landscape has helped spread the ideas of public figures who are obsessed with the idea of ‘free speech’ that’s really moonlighting as violent and hateful rhetoric. As our institutions are slowly, maybe, starting to be held accountable, this dark undercurrent and force has found it’s way to the wild west of the online world and created new communities in forums like Reddit and 4chan. It made us wonder about the legacy of technology as an instrument for the spreading of information – it’s obviously been a hugely liberating, educating force but also a complex and nefarious one in the hands of patriarchy. This is a conundrum that persists today.
One of the layers of HEXENHAMMER is built around how the 15th century witch hunting treatise Die Hexenhammer spread around Europe because of the advent of the printing press, nearly outselling the Bible…we explore a somewhat ludicrous and partly fictionalised version of how and why that happened, but we hope it sheds light on how quickly misogyny catches on and morphs as an ideology. We would be delighted if the show gets people noodling on these ideas.”
Tell us a little bit about the process of creating the show and what you have been up to ahead of the show landing at VAULT Festival.
“It’s been a long journey getting here – we started out making an hour of very chaotic clowning for the Live Drafts at The Yard in 2019, and then it’s been a slow process of chipping away at that to find a more cohesive show inside it, like two idiot Michealangelos crafting an enormous monk out of a piece of marble. We’ve had amazing support from the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, the Theatre Deli and the CPT for that, and the show was shortlisted for the 2022 Untapped Award.”
Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
“We began making HEXENHAMMER right before the pandemic and have felt quite isolated from the rest of the fringe community and industry at large at times, so we’re incredibly excited to meet all the other artists taking shows to the Vaults! There’s also a ton of shows we’ve been following from the sidelines and can’t wait to finally experience – we’re particularly buzzing to see Sluts With Consoles from Dogmouth Theatre which explores themes similar to HEXENHAMMER, and our friends at Flawbored’s show It’s A M*therfucking Pleasure.
HEXENHAMMER is, we think, unique and wild in its form and scope. Basically, we can guarantee you won’t be bored and simply cannot wait to share it with the amazing VAULT audiences. Thank you so much for giving us the time and space to rattle on about our show!”
Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, mocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?
“A perfectly poured pint of Bavarian lager, foam cascading down the glass!”