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Sabbat at The Dukes

John Freeman
A new play based on the story of the Lancashire Witches is set to open at Lancaster's The Dukes this month. Sabbat, which opens on Thursday 29 January, attempts to unravel the mysteries behind one of England’s most famous legal trials and imagines the events leading up to the execution of the witches at Lancaster Castle in 1612.

This new dramatisation will be directed by one of the rising stars of British theatre, Amy Leach, who scooped a prize at the prestigious Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards last year for her production of Dr Korczak’s Example at The Royal Exchange.

The new play begin on Good Friday 1612. High on a hill in the wild and lawless area of Pendle, a secret meeting is held at Malkin Tower. By the end of the year, most of those present have been sentenced to death at Lancaster Castle - hanged for the crime of witchcraft. The Pendle Witches, as they became known, were believed to have been responsible for the murder by witchcraft of seventeen people in and around the Forest of Pendle.

The play attempts to unravel the mysteries behind one of England’s most famous trials, that of the notorious Pendle Witches. Did Alice Nutter and the others really take part in a witches’ Sabbat? Or were these Pendle folk innocent victims at a time of persecution, paranoia and superstition? Sabbat imagines the events leading up to the trial and execution of The Lancashire Witches and asks: who held the real power behind the tightly closed doors of Pendle? How many lives are destroyed by laws born out of fear?

“It’s great that we’ve managed to attract Amy to direct for us here at The Dukes," commented Joe Sumsion, Director of the venue. "Her work is energetic, original and passionate – she really is one of the most talented young directors working in Britain today. And as a ‘Lancashire lass’ it’s very fitting that her first show for us is Sabbat – a young Lancashire artist re-telling one of the most famous of Lancashire stories.”

"From an early age, I've been watching productions at The Dukes and it's a pleasure to be invited to direct for the theatre," says Amy, who is equally thrilled to be working on the show. "I'm especially excited to be directing such a fantastic new play which is inspired by the stories, the history and the weather of the county where I grew up. We've got a talented team working on the show and I look forward to telling this gripping story."

The PendleLife web site notes the arrest and trial of the so-called Pendle Witches is probably the most well-known of the witch trials that took place in the UK in the 16th and 17th Centuries. This has come about for several reasons, not least the fact that unlike many witch trials, the case of the Pendle Witches was documented very thoroughly (if not very open-mindedly!) at the time by Thomas Potts, and the transcript published as a book (The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster). Also, the sheer number of people involved, the surprising confessions, and the conspiracy theories that abounded make the tale a juicy one that has lived on in history. Eevn today, it's said Pendle reputedly has a sizeable pagan community, and the tale of the Pendle Witches dominates the local tourism industry.

Sabbat runs from Thursday 29 January to Saturday 21 February. More information on The Dukes web site. To book tickets, book online or call the box office on 01524 598500.
Read the authentic confessions of the Pendle Witches online