Time is right as revived play casts its spell again

Sabbat - The Dukes
Sabbat - The Dukes
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Sabbat - The Dukes, Lancaster

Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining so the fact that the financial ones which prompted the temporary mothballing of this theatre’s annual outdoor promenade production have been replaced by meteorological ones which would have dampened even the hardiest of theatrical spirits is probably not such a bad thing.

The move indoors has made way for a timely revival of Richard Shannon’s dramatization of the events surrounding the trial and persecution of Lancashire’s Pendle Witches exactly 400 years ago.

They were 80 years earlier than the better known Salem Witches of Massachusetts and their fate on fabricated evidence and fear was no less shocking or tragic but the Central Lancashire coven haven’t had Arthur Miller or a McCarthy “witch-hunt” to attach their tale to – though Shannon’s dramatization of the events surrounding the Lancastrians’ trial and execution redresses some of that oversight.

Sabbat has grown from a radio sketch to a two handed one act play and more recently to two acts with a cast of four. It became the first play at this venue to have its run extended and has now been made an even more powerful indictment of the rough injustice meted out by a legal system not sure whether the poor, the witches, the Papists or the Jesuits were the greater threat to society.

Director Amy Leach has sensibly kept the intimate studio setting and Miriam Nabarro’s wood chipping a grey slab design to capture the shocking events in a setting which veers from claustrophobic intensity to wind swept Pendle Hills.

Nisa Cole is magnetically convincing as Jennet Preston – a naive youngster willing to exaggerate the truth and implicate all around her in the hopes of gaining freedom.

Original cast member Christine Mackie returns as the impressive and powerful innocent wealthy widow Alice Nutter whose closet Catholicism and knowledge of folklore remedies run counter to the times.

Robert Calvert is truly outstanding as the ageing and overlooked local magistrate Roger Nowell – desperate for an heir and frustrated by the petty crimes he has to deal with – and Hannah Emanuel once again perfectly completes the cast as his younger wife attempting to serve her husband whilst retaining her own identity.