From Joanne Rymer for NODA
The audience were seated awaiting the opening of the play when the plays director, Elliot Kinnear, appeared on the stage. He addressed the audience explaining that they were having technical issues with the backscreen projections inevitably that would impact the production. Elliott apologised profusely, confirmed the start of the play, reassuring the audience continued activity trying to resolve the problems.
The Crucible is an ambitious play to produce. It is a wordy play has a large cast and makes big demands of its leading actors. It is based on the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 and there are obvious parallels with McCarthyism in 1950s America (Miller wrote the play in 1952) and the religious and ethnic intolerance currently being experienced in the world. In the small rural community of Salem, a climate of fear turns the harmless romps of a group of teenage girls into a full-scale witch-hunt. The Crucible tells the story of John Proctor (Lee Crosbie), a local farmer who has an affair with one of the village’s young girls (Abigail) who then seeks her revenge when he chooses to return to his wife (Helena Hill). What ensues are accusations of witchcraft shocking and distressing to the Puritan villagers, which in turn lead to the deaths of numerous innocent men and women
It’s always a good thing when a production of such an iconic play is reenabled bringing something fresh to the table. I have to admire director Elliot Kinnear, Crucible set in 1940.s a’ fascism Party’ ruling Great Britain where Massachusetts remains an English colony It was definitely thought provoking and quite a challenge.
There are so many villains populating this play, and not just the young girls whose fake claims of witchcraft to settle old scores wind up killing numerous people, or the landowner who uses the girls’ accusations to obtain more property. Then there is the ‘Party’ whose unwavering judges uncaringly wield their power allowing so many more deaths even after the community has tired of the trials and wants them to stop. Top marks for costume depicting the 1940’s well. Top marks for the choice of uniform for the party members emphasising the equality of women in the hierarchy of the fascist regime. The simple set was fine, however often actors masked one another, this can happen with a large cast.
The lead character is John Proctor (Lee Crosbie) a simple farmer, a morally compromised man who has had a short-lived adulterous affair with Abigail Williams (Grace Stanger), a servant in his household. My feeling is more sexual tension was needed between John and Abigail for the audience to grasp the intensity of the ultimate repercussions. Repenting of his sin, he returns to his wife Elizabeth (Helena Hill), but Abigail is intent on revenge. Lee & Helena have strong chemistry, such lovely emotional scenes well delivered by these two talented actors. Highlight for me belongs to Proctor: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I like and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you, my soul; leave me my name!” Well done, Lee.
Friends and neighbours Giles Corey (Chris Nall-Evans) Francis Nurse (Graham Smith) Rebecca Nurse (Joan Mason) husband and wife Thomas (Roger Hesketh) & Ann Putman (Julie Khayati) This puritan community is quickly consumed by a climate of suspicion where no person is safe from its neighbour. In our current political climate, Miller’s epic is a chilling reminder of the frailty of reason in the face of hysteria.
Tituba’s (Maggi Green) true origins are unknown, Miller describes her as ‘Negro Slave, it is speculated that she may have been a native from Barbados brought with other women to work domestically, she also watched the young girls when the Reverend Parris was not home. She told stories and entertained the girls with voodoo. Her intent was never sinister; she only wanted to entertain the girls. As Elliot has recontextualised the play into a fictional 1940’s Tituba could represent numerous marginalised people is society. Maggi did a cracking job with this demanding supporting role.
Sarah Good (Julie Khayati) Sarah is a mentally unstable homeless lady whom Abigail accuses of witchcraft, saying she saw her with the devil. Like the slave Tituba, she’s an easy target because she is on one of the bottom rungs of society, has a poor reputation within the community since she is also an alcoholic. Consumption of alcohol is another sin, according to the Puritans. All these factors make her a prime target for scapegoating.
The Reverend Parris (Jane Wing) whose daughter Betty (Olivia Clarke) she believes is a victim of witchcraft. Parris is being far too hasty in wanting to bring virtually anyone and everyone to court, a marked contrast from the Reverend Hale (Adam Comer), brought in by Parris to assist in the witch hunt but ends up being the voice of reason in a most unjust set of trials. (Caroline Kay) as the supercilious, repugnant Deputy-Governor Danforth a woman so sure of witchcraft ignores all sense in order to eradicate it. Keith Hill is pretension personified as Judge Hathorne. Marshal Cheever (Michael Webster) and Marshal Herrick (Amy Marshall) are the court officers.
A group of village girls are caught dancing in the forest by the local Puritan pastor Parris and immediately suspicions and accusations of witchcraft abound. The girls’ collective hysteria leads them to accuse, first each other, and then a widening circle of neighbours, of witchcraft and communing with the Devil. The motives: to exonerate themselves of guilt by turning state’s evidence and to settle personal scores against their neighbours
Abigail Williams (Grace Stranger) clearly the villain of the play, she tells lies, manipulates her friends and the entire town, and eventually her activity sends nineteen innocent people to their deaths. Why you may ask, Abigail had an adulterous affair with John Proctor, who realising his shame returned to his wife. Wanting revenge, sees her opportunity accuses Elizabeth, John’s wife of witchcraft. Grace has natural stage presence, the audience liked her immediately. Abigail is a demanding role at her age, a strong performance at this point in Grace’s career.
Mary Warren (Megan McWha) a girl who tries, but fails, to do the right thing, having decided to testify to the innocence of Elizabeth Proctor, the lies of Abigail draw her back to the madness of the group of young women and she condemns an innocent woman in spite of herself. Good work Megan
Mercy Lewis (Liz Hanrahan) Betty Parris (Olivia Clarke) also victims of Abigail’s bullying. Betty is the Reverend Parris daughter, who following non puritan romps in the woods, Betty lay in an alleged catatonic state thought to be possessed by the devil, instigating the horrific witch hunt. Olivia gave a fine performance, not having dialogue is difficult, well done. The four young talented actors gave convincing performances.
As I said I admire Elliot for his ambition recontextualising this Arthur Miller Classic, however you got the feeling that the citizens are not aware that they live in a 1940’s fascist state, as the dialogue remains in 1692. This is more noticeable with the female cast who seem stuck in the 17th century. Without a doubt the lack of the back projection on the evening I attended supporting the story of this complicated plot effected Elliott’s vision. In saying that the audience response was very positive, showing appreciation of this challenging production.
Thank you for my invitation to the final play of the BDS season, it was a truly entertaining evening. Have a good summer, see you all soon.