A Dukes Lancaster production
Thursday June 7 - Saturday June 16 2012 at The Dukes, then touring, followed by Tuesday 17 July - Saturday 21 July at The Dukes, Lancaster
review by Alan Chard
To understand Sabbat in the fullest sense is impossible for us who inhabit the 21st century because we are bombarded by 24 news coverage and have easy access to instant information from the internet. We have to try to take ourselves back to an age when most people rarely traveled further than they could walk the round trip in a day. An age when superstition was a way of life, when few people could read or write, when people were hanged more readily for what would be considered trivial offences by our standards.
From the moment you enter the theatre to experience Sabbat you are transported back in time, the floor is dirty, it feels and smells like a dark dank place, although close-by objects are clear, the lighting means that the other side of the theatre is indistinct. Into this world of a minimal stage set come four actors who deliver a gripping evening.
The action opens gently, with domestic scenes, the midwife attending her charge - the magistrates wife, the persistent beggar child who comes ostensively to bless the child-to-be but demands bread and money from the frightened mother-to-be. Unless you have experienced something like that it's difficult to believe because in our welfare state there are handouts to such people. Neither can we fully comprehend the village mentality, where everyone would know everyone else and their day to day business, where secrets were hard to keep and gossip a way of life.
Towards to end of the first act there is a swift change in mood, we feel that sinister events are unfolding after the young wife gives birth, gossip takes over from reason, suspicion is rife.
The cast of four delivers a great performance, even doubling up to provide sound effects, in these austere times we are likely see many more productions by smaller casts to fit tight budgets.
In the second act the prejudices of the time are played out, and events career forward towards their inevitable conclusion. We see the small-town magistrate with his small amount of authority over the lives of those around him using that authority with a lack of common sense, and perhaps enjoying his power over others. Personally I was reminded of our modern airport security staff and the hysteria that surrounds flying, and our modern equivalent of the witches of 400 years ago - anyone who is not the child's parent that might even look at or talk to a child, yes that mentality is still there.
We should be careful about condemning the people of the past and their readiness to believe in witchcraft, today we have our witches and wizards they just have different labels and are we are just as ready to condemn then on the say-so of vindictive children.
Alan Chard, June 2012
Production photos of Sabbat