The Crucible

Date 15th March 2016
Society Irving Stage Company
Venue Theatre Royal Bury St Edmundse
Type of Production Drama
Director Nick Bennett

Report

Author: Julie Petrucci

Arthur Miller's gripping historical play is a timely parable of contemporary society. The Crucible tells the story of how small lies - children's lies build and build until the whole town of Salem, Massachusetts is caught up in the hysteria. Old disagreements over land intensify in the frenzy of blame and betrayal and 19 men and women are sent to the gallows for being possessed by the Devil.

It is a curious paradox of human history that despite apparently civilising structure to ensure Justice and fair play - the cancer of the accusatory finger seems forever with us accuse lest ye be accused, appears to be the maxim.

Maybe at a different place and time Proctor, Rebecca and old Corey would have been classed as courageous. When viewing a play with such historical lineage, one is drawn to asking many questions essentially how can nineteen adults be hanged on the basis of flimsy evidence initiated by young girls.

The stark puritan settings were splendid and the lighting design created the oppressive atmosphere well although I thought some of the cuing on the first night was a bit suspect. The costumes were necessarily drab and entirely appropriate which all added to the perception of the period.  One felt that the sun did not shine in Salem.

The Crucible works on many levels and the pace of the play is vital, it has melodramatic quality and can, if the director is not careful, be pitched at a relentless and overly hysterical level. Director Nick Bennett ensured the few quiet moments neatly balanced the more passionate and powerful set pieces.  The acting was well controlled as it needed to be in order to avoid the character running away with the part.  There were unfortunately though several moments of so called “brain fade” which could maybe put down to first night nerves.

The whole cast must be congratulated. It was evident all were committed to the play and its themes. The qualities of the interaction among the actors was good.

The play has been criticised for overly blaming Abigail. The original Abigail was 12 years old; Proctor was her employer and twice her age. Although in those communities people married young, Proctor has a large element of guilt to contend with. His remorse for his behaviour and his deception of Elizabeth contributing to the acceptance of his fate is sometimes underplayed. Nicholas Metcalfe gave a performance of depth and intensity as the troubled Proctor, effectively showing his inner agony.

Other performances of note were:

Faye Smith’s portrayal of Abigail was formidable, a dangerous girl/woman to cross. She showed how it is possible to manipulate through fear and intimidation.

The kingly power, authority and arrogance of Judge Danforth was fearsomely displayed by Anthony Sully: who would dare argue with him and get away with it?

Jeremy Warbrick in a fine performance as the doubting Revd Hale, brave to challenge the court and possibly make himself a victim was impressive.

A good showing too from Stuart Mclellan as Revd Parris, a man damaged by the need to be right, holding on to power finally to suffer retribution inflicted both by others and himself.

Elizabeth Proctor was a simple soul, probably not exciting enough for the more passionate John. Sian Couture brought out her simplicity and honesty to good effect, culminating in a poignant final scene as she says goodbye to John.

Annabelle Haworth as Mary Warren had the difficult job of showing us divided loyalties - wanting to be a good girl, tell the truth, and yet fearful, rightly, of Abigail and the loss of her friends. We were at one with her in her dilemma she had no sure protection as was shown, and she knew the dangers.

I also much enjoyed the fine performance of Graeme Lockey as Giles Cory.  A man mystified as to why his third wife was so occupied with books but a good and honest man through and through.

Given the huge cast it is, of course, not possible to mention every name.  Suffice it to say that all the characters were excellently portrayed, showing their confusion, uncertainty and long histories of petty squabbles, all culminating in the horror of what became the Salem witch hunt.

Congratulations to everyone involved. This was a most accomplished production all round.