Theatre in Wales

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The Crucible

Birmingham Repertory Company and the Touring Consortium , New Theatre, Cardiff , December-02-04
Today, amongst many people in this country, there seems to be little trust in our Prime Minister Tony Blair. There is also a wide spread view that George Bush’s re-election as President of America is seen as a backlash against a new emerging liberalism and democratic freedom supported by a righteous religious fervour, more to do with self-preservation of bodies and bank balances than a proper consideration for the condition of mankind. The stories we hear coming out of Guantanamo Bay give us a scary message, when we see the consequences of the Commandments of God becoming the preserve of ‘good guy’ political reactionaries.

Over half a century ago, when the threat to bodies and big bank balances was the advance of Communism and global nuclear war, in an America, triumphant from winning the Second World War, Senator Joseph MaCarthy was given the role of ‘divine inquisitor’ and anyone offering a creative view of life became suspect. Arthur Miller became one of the flies trapped in MaCarthy’s web. His response was to go back to the late seventeenth century to a savage ‘witch hunt’ of desperately tragic consequences, giving us a warning of what can still, even today, happen when a zealous concern for the morality of others becomes the back bone of the governance of society.

Three hundred years on, as David Blunkett, himself a Home Secretary with a penchant for raising the sword of righteousness, is now learning to his cost; ‘hell hath no fury than a woman scorned’. In Salem John Proctor’s fate was a far more sickening one than any consequences that Mr Blunkett may have to endure.

Proctor, a faithful and good husband and ‘salt of the earth’ Massachusetts farmer, given a strong, and at the latter end of the play a very moving performance by Malcolm Storry, was seduced, taken off guard, down amongst his cows by the young, scheming Abigail Williams, her strength and determination very much under-expressed in Leah Muller’s performance.

It could be that the whole plot of this play evolves from Abigail’s determination to wrest John from his strong and loving marriage to his wife Elizabeth, a pleasantly gentle touch of acting by Patricia Kerrigan. If this is the case, then the human ability to let our prejudices overrule our reason could well be a part of our own tragedy, and one to constantly fight against.

The assembled cast on the darkened stage set the atmosphere with some fine period singing, burning lanterns rise from the floor of the stage and we see the young Betty Parris ‘fitting’ and taking to her bed: a delightfully spirited performance from Bethan Cecil, who has recently finished her training at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The witchcraft message has already taken hold; Abigail has manipulated Betty and most of the other impressionable young girls of the village to convince everyone that they have been ‘possessed’. As they writhe and fit they easily scare themselves into believing their own story.

Pip Donaghy excelled with slimy self-satisfaction as Betty’s father, the minister of the village, gloating, with his whole body each time the rope tightened around another ‘Goodie’s’ neck. The strongest performance came from Tom Marshall as Judge Hathorne, he more than most of the rest of the cast and perhaps Paul Shelley as Reverend Hale had judged their performance to fit appropriately into the new Theatre space and into the large open set, which I felt to be a distraction from the intensity of the mood of the play.

On this occasion, well-proven director Jonathon Church, with this award winning, highly respected company and a very experienced cast of actors was not able to bring to this production the magic and passion the plays deserves. For me laurels of the night went to Arthur Miller, for his finely tuned sense of the art of theatre and for the wisdom and timelessness in his wonderful writing.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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