"The Spirit of Albion" began life as a play devised by the Archway Theatre Young Adults Workshop.
Poster of the original stage production
The Archway Theatre is based in Horley, Surrey and the Young Adults Workshop is made up of 16 to 21 year old members of the theatre. Every summer,we put on a show - usually a devised piece. In September 2009 we decided that the summer 2010 production would be a musical and the music chosen was by Damh the Bard. 10 songs were picked out and the story and characters were created based on them. The show was performed for 3 nights in early July.
For more information on the show, including production diary, rehearsal and production photos, please click on the link below:
To find out more about Damh the Bard, go to:
The audience response was so positive, especially amongst the Pagan community who came to see the show that the decision was made to revive the show and take it to Witchfest International at the Fairfield halls, Croydon on 6th November 2010. The one drawback was that most of the original cast had now gone on to University, so the cast for Witchfest was especially put together for this ‘one-off’ performance. This time around, the roles were played by an ‘age-appropriate’ cast made up of experienced actors, all of whom jumped at the chance to bring such a unique show to life. Once again, we had a fantastic response from the audience.
The cast of the Witchfest Show.
Original Production review by Hannah Cutting
‘The Spirit of Albion’ is a thought provoking, inspiring and ultimately entertaining ‘play with songs’, complete with ethereally beautiful music and existential themes. It follows three protagonists as they find themselves led into a woodland glade by mysterious ‘guides’ and asked to contemplate their dissatisfaction with their respective modern lifestyles. It transpires the guides are in fact the ‘old ones’, ancient pagan gods who have taken it upon themselves to enlighten these world-weary travellers, opening their eyes and minds to the natural world. All this is accompanied and unravelled through the medium of song.
Attempting to put on a ‘musical’ is always a daring feat, so for a group of teenagers renowned for acting ability but having thus far never showcased any form of singing, the challenge is somewhat increased! I have eternal faith in the talent of the group, guided by the pillar that is Gary Andrews, and creating this show has proven my trust more than justified. I was lucky enough to witness a snatch of rehearsals along the way, from early auditions to a week before curtain-up, and felt privileged to be able to watch the production develop. The courage and commitment shown from the group, always with such vigour, is inspiring in itself.
The plot came from the very music, and it shows; having been introduced to the songs of Damh the Bard, the group decided to select ten of these and devise the story around the strong themes echoing through the music, (including but not limited to work pressures, animal testing, war, and substance abuse). Music has an intriguing power to discuss hard-hitting subjects with a grace making them easier to digest for an audience, so this was a clever way to approach introspective drama. Furthermore, the plot being so intricately attuned to the songs enabled it to flow in a harmonious rhythm that is difficult to achieve in devised musical drama.
The stage itself was transformed into a forest glade: walls decorated in shades of blue and green; the spaces furnished with long leafy branches. Set design was fittingly minimal for a production so full of imagination. Yet there was something luxurious about the way it came together, with a notable ‘campfire’ light downstage that was a nice atmospheric touch, and glorious costumes particularly for the pagan gods, with their post-interval transformation. Ellen Dawson’s expert stage-managing was evident in the smooth flowing transitions, all brought together with an ever reliable and hard-working crew, with special mentions to assistant director Roz Ingrams and head techie Dan Adams.
Credit to every single one of the actors for creating a strong ensemble piece, with both well-developed main characters and a versatile supporting cast. The three protagonists grounded the play, with Carys Harper’s portrayal of the innocently optimistic Esther, Ella Sowton’s ethically and emotionally conflicted Annie, and James Abbott’s lightly sarcastic but passionate George. Juxtaposed were the five pagan gods, all with their own particular role; the music became quite educational, as the songs would explain their histories and pagan attitudes towards the world. Indeed the singing was of an impressive standard as every actor committed to the musical aspect of the production. This did not go unnoticed and was the driving force behind making the music work, and it really did. Particular acclaim goes to Bryan Tester’s Bob Dylan-esque haunting tones and Stevie Pickering’s conviction. From the opening ‘Pagan Ways’, setting the scene in a less conventional way, to the final ‘Spirit of Albion’ which ended like a rock show; live instruments, dancing, electric guitars plugged into leaf-covered amps; the night was a spectacle that truly had spirit.
Witchfest production review by Craig Sackett
In a packed auditorium, I sat among the audience waiting to see how the show would use the songs of Damh the Bard to tell it's own tale of magick and mystery. For two enjoyable hours I was drawn in by the story, losing myself entirely to it's woodland setting and the unfolding drama. So enwrapped in the adventure was I, that I almost forgot I was actually a member of an audience! Each one of us had been captivated the same way, with only our shared laughter and tears reminding us of others around us.
Most shows dazzle with fancy illusion, but SOA weaves real magick that rekindles an old fire in each of us. The cast gave faultless performances, with their acting and singing, raising both the bar AND our spirits with every verse. While the original Archway line up buzzed with a youthful enthusiasm, the Witchfest cast took things further with a grace and gravity that added another way toward the heart of that woodland grove.
As the story came to it's conclusion, I felt refreshed and invigorated...as did everyone in the theatre. Every voice sang along to the final song, and from the smiles from audience and cast alike, it's clear to see that SOA is something very special indeed....not only a show to watch, but also a story to be a part of.
With two performances now leading to the movie, the magick is set to continue and once again deliver a fresh yet familiar message to pagans and lovers of good storytelling alike.
Bravo to all the cast and crew!
Thanks as always to Damh the Bard.
And may the Spirit of Albion long continue to call you home!