Review: The Crucible: A Miller’s Tale executed perfectly

Lifestyle / Tue 21st Apr 2015 at 07:31am

The CrucibleBy Siobhan Wood

THE Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller to compare investigations in 1950s America with the Salem witch trials in 1692. Paul Johnson directed the Harlow Theatre Company’s version at The Victoria Hall and it managed to be funny and tense while balancing the portrayal of intimate human relationships with a high energy rabble in the perfectly executed (no pun intended) crowd scenes.

It can take a while to settle into a story but very early on it felt as though it had clicked into place and the characters were believable and human. What I enjoyed the most about The Crucible was how at times there would be eight to eleven actors on stage and never did anyone fade into the scenery or slip out of character; right from the start they all contributed actively, even when the scene didn’t focus on them, such as at the very beginning with Pamela Self-Pierson as Abigail Williams stealing illicit glances at John Proctor and Alyssa Upton as Ann Putnam rolling her eyes. I loved the energy of the play and looked forward to the arrival of new characters, who all burst through the door with news and the energy to drive the action forward.

There was lashings of humour in the delivery and the audience laughed throughout, with great chemistry between the actors, such as when Ann Putnam says to her husband, played by Richard Parsley: “Mr Putnam, stand close in case she flies.” I felt that considering the sad situation Elizabeth Proctor was in, Petrova Simpson’s brilliant portrayal of her didn’t take the easy route and play her as weak and downtrodden – there was sarcasm and strength in the delivery of some lines that made me laugh out loud. Giles Corey, played by Paul Stephenson, was a funny character, particularly when talking of his wife’s habit of reading books: “It discomforts me!”

I was drawn to Reverend Parris, played by Clive Weatherley, from the very beginning due to his stage presence and enjoyed watching his character change from seemingly pleasant enough to patronising as the play went on. Steve Hannam gave a powerful performance as John Proctor and I particularly enjoyed his delivery of the wonderful dialogue between him and Elizabeth Proctor, when he tells her that “an everlasting funeral marches around your heart.” I found Rebecca Nurse, played by Jane Miles, the most likeable character and enjoyed her endearing performance as someone who sensibly was unfazed by the secret dancing in the forest and who stuck to her morals to the very end. Alan Jones as Francis Nurse was very expressive and the sadness in his face at his wife’s predicament was moving.

Carrie-Lee Stevens as Mary Warren also made me laugh when she tried pushing the boundaries with John Proctor after being elevated to a higher position in society as part of the trial, but quickly concluded that she did in fact wish to go to bed rather than sit up with him and Elizabeth Proctor. Bart Brockbank’s portrayal of the sauntering, drunken Marshal Herrick and Sarah Wiggins as the cider-craving Sarah Good were very entertaining.

Richard Munns as Ezekiel Cheever bought balance to his scenes as someone who appeared able to only utter the truth and say what he sees in a world where everyone else seems to be twisting the truth for their own gain. Reverend Hale, played by Mitchell Rous, was another seemingly serious and genuine character but he had an element of the type of modern-day vampire hunter you would see in movies and made me laugh with the line: “But the devil is a wily one, you cannot deny it.”

The ear piercing screeches throughout the play were a reminder that the whole ordeal was based on the accusation of young girls, albeit manipulative ones. Cassie Solola as Tituba further emphasised this point, seeming sweet despite the claims made against her but quickly turning the other girls’ betrayal towards her into accusations towards others. Polly Johnson was convincing as Betty Parris, the girl at the heart of everything, and it was revealing to watch the way her, Susannah Walcott, played by Milly Gladstone, and Mercy Lewis, played by Roseanna Connolly, interacted with Abigail; they were great in the suspenseful scene where they are repeating Mary Warren’s sentences in an attempt to frame her. Pamela Self-Pierson played Abigail Williams excellently as a villain and dangerous ringleader.

I particularly enjoyed the court scenes, which were like a live episode of The Thick Of It crossed with a costume drama. Andy Prangnell as the cool Judge Hathorne and Barry Bowen as the stern, unflinching and stage-dominating Judge Danforth were another highlight and this to me was when the play reached its peak, with a floor full of great characters complimenting the thought provoking dialogue and plot shifts.

The set worked well, turning from a homely bedroom to a barn and more without losing believability and the costumes, lighting and music between scenes all worked together to create an authentic experience. It was fun to see subtle cues in the costumes, which became more bedraggled as the story spiralled and more lives were put on the line.

I felt the play was framed well with some suitably creepy elements, starting with the opening music and finishing with Elizabeth Proctor when she unnervingly closes the play. The show ended to thunderous applause and it deserved it, as I enjoyed every scene and the atmosphere, particularly in the scenes which involved lots of characters, was highly charged and The Crucible was hugely entertaining.

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