Play set to cast its spell

Lancaster actress Christine Mackie visits the dungeons at Lancaster Castle during preparations for her role in Sabbat at The Dukes.'Please credit Darren Andrews
Lancaster actress Christine Mackie visits the dungeons at Lancaster Castle during preparations for her role in Sabbat at The Dukes.'Please credit Darren Andrews

Sabbat – a play commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch trials in Lancaster – opens this week at The Dukes.

The theatre is next door to the pub in Moor Lane where – legend has it – the witches had their final drink before facing the gallows.

And it is also about midway between Lancaster Castle where the witches were tried and imprisoned in 1612, and the hill near Williamson Park, where they were hanged.

With Lancaster’s many connections to the single biggest witchcraft trial in UK history, it’s little wonder that when The Dukes first staged Sabbat in 2009, it enjoyed a record-breaking run.

Three years later, again tickets are selling well for the revival of this human drama behind the historic event both at The Dukes and further afield, as the production goes on tour this summer.

The Dukes hasn’t toured a homegrown play for many years, and has never presented a play in London before – Sabbat will be performed at The Orange Tree in Richmond during July.

In Lancaster, just as in 2009, Sabbat will be staged in The Round at The Dukes, and of the four-strong cast, two – Christine Mackie and Hannah Emanuel – are revisiting their roles.

Christine is well known in Lancaster not only for her work at The Dukes, but also for running Mackies, the interior decoration business in Dalton Square, with her husband, James.

She appears in Sabbat just weeks after filming an episode of Downton Abbey, in which she’s already appeared twice.

Christine plays Daphne Bryant in the popular costume drama, and her TV husband is Kevin McNally. They play the parents of a upstairs ‘gent’ who has a baby with a maid. Christine is also a fixture in the ITV children’s sitcom My Phone Genie, where she plays the teacher Miss Hicks.

She was most recently seen at The Dukes last autumn in the one woman show Hi Vis.

Christine has lived in Lancaster since 1988, so is well aware of the city’s connection to the witch trials: “When you go to the castle and see where the witches were tried and the instruments of torture and then visit the Golden Lion pub where they are supposed to have had their last drink, their story becomes more of a reality and you wonder how this could have happened,” she said.

“But the subject of witchcraft is still relevant. It’s not Hogwarts, a lot of people across the world have a real belief in witchcraft, so it’s very much current news.”

“I think The Dukes should be proud.”

Sabbat imagines the events leading up to the trial and execution of the witches and asks whether the accused really were witches or innocent victims at a time of paranoia.

Sabbat runs at The Dukes from June 7-16 and returns from July 17-21.

For more information and regular updates on the production, visit {http:// www.sabbattheplay.org|www.sabbattheplay.org}.