Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Crucible

Birmingham Rep , New Theatre, Cardiff , December-01-04
This review first appeared in the Western Mail...


Thirty years ago as a teenager I appeared in a production of Millerís great witch hunt play at my grammar school in East Belfast.

At the times eyebrows were raised at the choice of play. Not because it was not a great work, not because it didnít happen to be on the curriculum that year but because of the obvious direct relationship between bigotry, prejudice and superstition in 17th century Salem and 20th century Northern Ireland.
Move the clock onto the next millennium and the messages are just as fresh, vivid and frightening only the contemporary parallels have shifted.
Millerís gripping tale of deceit and vengeance, political, social and religious interests all being wound together with chilling consequences was, of course, commenting on the 190s McCarthy trials.

Today the invisible enemy is international terrorism; the unholy alliance is between politics and big business. Thrown in ignorance and suspicion of Islam, create a climate of fear and cultivate you are either with us or against and, hey presto, we have it.

Just for good measure we have Blairís ďAmerica has spoken we must all listenĒ .Add to that the sexual shenanigans goings on in the background and you have a plot even Miller would have had trouble staging.
And so a crowded New Theatre Ė this time it is on the school curriculum Ė delved into this dark production. Dark, not only in the set designs and gloomy lighting, but deeply troubled, complex characterizations from this skilled ensemble cast.

Admittedly there were times when the combination of quiet voices and a little too much concern for authenticity in accents meant words were lost and at other times anger and frustration were reduced to mere shouting. But in the main this is a production that gets to the heart of the story and, most importantly, is utterly realistic and convincing.

The tension is carefully handled by director Jonathan Church: the building hysteria masterfully controlled and the court room hysteria of the girls truly chills.

On another level this is a personal domestic drama, the story of a lost relationship between John Proctor, played with genuine anguish by Malcolm Storry and his wife Elizabeth, sympathetically portrayed by Patricia Kerrigan. Proctorís determination to stand up against bigotry and prejudice because he knows the motive for the original accusations is the vengeance from a young girl Abigail who he has rejected, leads to his downfall.

Yet that downfall, through admitting the lechery, being denounced as in league with the devil and refusing to hand over a signed confession to save his life, brings his personal salvation and at last reunites the couple.

Also particularly strong and convincing was the frightened and simpering Mary Warren from Sara Beharrell and Angela Phinnimore as the servant Tituba.
Paul Shelley played a rounded Reverend Hale who transforms as the play progresses while Pip Donaghy was a strangely silly Reverend Parris whose odd jigging around the stage becoming rather irritating rather than effective.
Oliver Cottonís portrayal of Deputy Governor Danforth effectively brought to mind the dangers of too close a relationship between the judiciary and politicians, the church and the state.

The use of three hanging lanterns dropping from the ceiling, jolting at the ends of their chains and swinging was an inspired touch as Proctor and his fellow accused met their fate on the gallows.

Reviewed by: Mike Smith

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