15 July 2012

Sabbat at the Orange Tree

The normal season over, the Orange Tree played host to two other plays for one week each and so I found myself back there for the second Saturday evening in a row, this time to see Sabbat: The Trials of the Pendle Witches.

It is a new play telling a story that is four hundred years old when superstition was rife and the role of the law was to suppress it. And that meant suppressing Catholic beliefs and acts as well as the older pagan ones.

The play focuses on one act that led to two of the women being convicted and hanged.

The magistrate's wife is pregnant and is nervous for the health of her child. Infant death is common and the magistrate, much older than his wife, tells us that the local graveyard is full with his children.

He is externally righteous and sees all good things as having come from the Protestant God and all bad things coming from failing to follow the one true path.

Looking after the wife is a friend, a wealthy widow, and a young pauper girl from a nearby camp.

The baby is stillborn and the magistrate looks for excuses.

He questions the young girl and she confesses to being a witch and implicates her family, community and the widow. The girl is clearly uneducated and has no idea of what she is saying or what the implications are.

She thinks that she has a friendly spirit looking after her despite his inaction.

Matters take their expected course and the suspected witches are all found guilty.

The story is interesting and pulls you along nicely though it is fair to say that there are no great moments of drama or changes in pace. This is a simple reading of the story and I felt that to be a weakness.

In contrast, the acting from the small cast of four was excellent and lifted the story-telling above the steady pace of the plot. A special mention goes to the young girl who was lively and innocent throughout.

The direction was also very good using a simple, slightly raised, stage with just one or two props to good effect. It is a touring production but it very much had the Orange Tree house style.

I would struggle to say that the play grabbed me in any meaningful way but the story, direction and especially the acting did make it a good way to spend another wet Saturday evening in Richmond.

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