Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Crucible

Act One , Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff , March-13-11
The Crucible by Act One The student group have triumphed once more with this heartfelt and dramatic interpretation of the classic play, The Crucible. Although the meaty play covers a plethora of “issues” : adultery, witchcraft, lying, punishment, religion, law; the young cast tackled it with maturity and much consideration for the historical aspects of the material.

The story follows a puritan community in Salem, who are rocked by accusations of witchcraft after a group of young girls are found dancing and performing rituals in the forest. To turn the accusations away from herself the wily Abigail Williams begins to point the finger at anyone in the community that she does not approve of. Amy Gilbrook was perfectly cast as the devious teen, giving the character reason for all her evil actions. She was fully believable a heartless and somewhat naive young lady who would not think twice about getting someone sentenced to death to get what she wants.  Occasionally she slipped in a bit of modern, moody teen attitude but this was not completely out of place and gave the audience more reason to dislike her!
It is eventually revealed that one of the accused women’s husband, John Proctor, has had a affair with Abigail, who is still in love with him and wishes to become his wife. Proctor, played by Sam Blythe, is perhaps the most real of the characters, claiming to be neither a saint nor a sinner. Sam played the honest and simple-living farmer well, warming into the part as the play progressed. Towards the end of the play he was truly moving in his portrayal of a man torn between his desire to live and his need to uncover the truth.

His wife, Elizabeth, was a real driving force in the production. Alice Thatcher’s interpretation of Elizabeth’s quiet defiance was much more powerful than screaming and shouting ever could be. The character was made three dimensional and it was easy to see both why John cheated on her and why he will always love her despite her initially cold exterior.

The strict nature of the society was easy to realise with a good performance from Jon Chapman as Reverend Parris. His strict religious views and need to be seen as a beacon in society made him determined to do anything to hold on to his social standing. His journey through the play is not massive, he is constantly preaching and somewhat irritating, until a final U-turn when his conscience seems to kick in. With so many condemned to hanging he became almost Gollum like with worry, but whether this is truly due to concern for the condemned or due to fear of an uprising is unclear.

Parris is backed up by the judges Danforth (James Davies) and Hathorne (Darren F. Jones) who are reserved and somewhat sadistic characters who are more concerned about upholding the court than the persecution of innocent people. Both were imposing and used their deep, resonant voices to full effect to intimidate and bully.

The other young girls from the original group caught in the woods back Abigail up in everything she has to say in a bid to save themselves. The whole group were formidable when up against the accused, working together in pretend acts of being touched by witchcraft. The only girl to stand up for truth, Mary Warren, is a somewhat simple and naive girl who was also interestingly the only one to not fully take part in the original incident in the woods. Elin Williams was again an obvious choice for the role; she perfectly captured Mary’s innocence and easily changeable nature, one of the only people to go into the more dramatic scenes full force from the off.

Perhaps the only truly religious and good character in the whole production is Rev. John Hale. Initially called in to investigate supernatural occurrences in the town he soon sees through the girls’ pretence and does his utmost to save the condemned from hanging. James Shapland played the priest very well but sometimes didn’t have enough force to be considered a real opponent against the cruel judges.

Other standout performances came from Ruth Millington as Rebecca Nurse and James Rhys Davies as Cheever. Ruth was almost unrecognisable as the old lady who was a real pillar of the society and was brilliantly brave until the end when she refuses to confess to something she didn’t do, even though it will mean certain death for her. James was a much needed injection of energy when the play started to flag half way through, he illustrated both sides of the fickle man; that which was loyal to his god and law and that which was loyal to his friends.

At times the lighting seemed a little erratic and due to over use of blackouts it was unclear when each act had finished. Costumes were fantastic and the whole cast seemed comfortable in them, the only bad point was the overly simple symbolisation of the farmers who had their shirts untucked and frayed clothes  as opposed to the overly smart  ministers of God and the court. Sometimes the cast didn’t quite get to grips with the colloquialisms of the time but I think this is unavoidable unless they all adopt accents which I feel would have been an even bigger problem. 

Overall the play was successful. As with any play there were certain scenes which dragged but this was more than made up for with a punchy and highly emotional second act. Without a doubt the finest scene was between Mr and Mrs Proctor before his hanging, when she tells him only God will be his judge. Hopefully the cast will only improve as the week progresses and really dive into the dramatic, high tension scenes.
Emotional, tense and believable. Highly recommended!

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Chelsy Gillard is part of the Young Critics Scheme, Co-ordinated by Bridgend County Borough Council's Arts and Community Development, in partnership with the National Theatre of Wales and Academi

Reviewed by: Chelsy Gillard

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