The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Date 29th March 2019
Society Ponteland Repertory Society
Venue Memorial Hall, Ponteland
Type of Production Play
Director Carole Davies

Report

Author: Michael L Avery

I confess not seeing a serious play for years and certainly not since becoming a NODA Rep.  So, I approached this production with trepidation, especially when the Director forewarned us of the running time of 3 ¼ hours.  I had decided on some research and, for the first time in years, I found myself reading, in advance, a student primer.  As it happened, I soon found the play both engaging and absorbing.

Briefly, Arthur Miller provides a reasonably accurate account of events leading to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 in Massachusetts, when a kind of hysteria infected the local community.  After a group of adolescent girls are seen dancing with abandon (one allegedly naked) in nearby woods.the puritanical environment which holds sway in that place and time requires an explanation.  Claiming to have been bewitched provides a convenient distraction.  Miller compared it to the witch-hunt (this being where the word comes from) that led to the anti-communist hearings in 1950s America.  Similar parallels exist today, when unproven accusations can blacken the characters of blameless celebrities.  In the 1690s, however, hanging could be the ultimate sanction.

Apologies for that long introduction. This play demands to be taken seriously.  It opens after the dancing, with one of the participants, Betty (Jasmine Lever) having taken to her bed in a state of apparent confusion.  An explanation for the dancing is required and one of the ringleaders, Abigail Williams (Amber Covington) says they were possessed at the behest of witches in the community.  Thus begins the rumour and innuendo which results in 200 people being accused and 20 executed.

The play comes alive, for me, with the introduction of farmer John Procter (Jonny Woollett) and his 17 year old servant, Mary Warren (Zoe Buckthorp).  Gradually, the truth is revealed to the audience but never to the Rev. Parris, Betty’s father (Jason Long) nor, ultimately, Deputy Governor Danforth (Peter Woodward) who are blinkered by their religious bias.  In truth, the girls were trying to conjure a curse against Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth (Jules Stevenson Warrender) but Abigail exercises an unholy influence over them, including the initially truthful Mary, persuading them to stick to their cover story.  To complicate matters, she and John had an illicit liaison in the past, when she was the Proctors’ maid, as a result of which Elizabeth had sacked her.  Initially, Mary confirms this but, under the malign influence of Abigail and the cruel one sided cross-examination of Danforth, she implicates John and Elizabeth whose fates are sealed.

The play is long and convoluted, with 4 acts and much arcane language – which must have been the devil to learn – and 20 named characters.  Sorry for not name checking everybody.  They all deserve praise.  Acting throughout was excellent and the climax of the action is quite visceral and affecting.  Well done director Carole Davies and everybody involved in this production.