Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Crucible, June 27, 2013 ****

By Arthur Miller
Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, June 27 until Aug 3, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 27, 2013
 Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri June 28, 2013 and later in print. KH
 David Wenham (John Proctor) & Elizabeth Nabben (Abigail Williams), Amanda McGregor (Betty on bed). Photo © Jeff Busby

By the end of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, you may feel overwhelmed by despair, frustration and horror at the astonishing success of false accusations and mob hysteria to condemn the innocent to death.

A 21st audience will draw parallels with the dangerous consequences of viral rumour mongering on social media.

Miller used the 1692 Salem witch-hunts as a vivid landscape for the personal story of a farmer, John Proctor (David Wenham), whose upright wife, Elizabeth (Anita Hegh), is accused of witchcraft by young Abigail Williams (Elizabeth Nabben), their former servant and John’s ex-lover.

The vengeful Abigail has no qualms about sending Elizabeth and others to their deaths in order to fulfil her desire to have Proctor.

The actual 1692 witch-hunts of Salem, Massachusetts provided Miller with an analogy for the 1950s McCarthy trials that persecuted artists who had even the flimsiest association with Communism.

But Miller knew that a powerful drama needs human passion at its core to drive the narrative and illuminate social and moral issues.

The Crucible boasts an impeccably crafted script, challenging themes, bold dialogue and sensitively drawn characters that all make this heightened narrative credible.

Sam Strong’s intimate and emotional production, staged on a stark, claustrophobic, black and white design (Dale Ferguson), highlights characters and relationships against a background of community hysteria, religious fervour and judicial prejudice. Although it has an uneven start, the production finds it feet in the second half.

 Strong makes the girls’ hysteria credible and grim, but their modern Australian accents often conflict with the period language, but the older actors use either an English accent or an inflected Australian accent more compatible with the dialogue. (Julia Blake’s West Country accent seems the most compatible with the dialogue and is indeed the most likely origin of these pilgrims to Massachusetts.)

Wenham is a potent stage presence as Proctor, the hero with a fatal flaw, portraying this rustic, ordinary man with initial restraint that turns to passionate action and tirades against injustice and irrationality. 

Proctor is a tough-minded protagonist, a self-sufficient farmer who chooses not to engage with the hysteria, but is dragged into it when his wife is accused.

Hegh, as Elizabeth, is composed, warm and protective of her husband, and it is painful to witness the unjustified imprisonment of this righteous, moral woman.

As the elderly Rebecca Nurse, Julia Blake lights the stage with her exceptional, understated and intensely human performance depicting a woman of integrity and honesty.

Brian Lipson, with his rich, velvety voice, commands the stage as Deputy Governor Danforth, blending gravitas with irrationality and a thirst for power.

Nabben, in the pivotal but difficult role of 17 year-old Abigail, has successful moments, particularly in her manipulation of the girlish accusers, but does not effectively balance Abigail’s demanding sensuality with primness, vengeance and her vile, self-serving dissembling.

Greg Stone counters smug superiority with comical frenzied self-preservation as the loathsome Reverend Parris, while Paul English is dignified as both Putman and Judge Hathorne.

Three hundred years have passed since these witch trials, but gossip, misreporting, false accusations and hysteria triggered by viral media are very much alive.

By Kate Herbert
Director - Sam Strong
Set and Costume Designer- Dale Ferguson
Lighting Designer -Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer -Kelly Ryall
Assistant Director -Samarah Hersch

David Wenham (John Proctor)
Julia Blake (Rebecca)
Heather Bolton (Mrs Ann Putnam/Sarah Good)
Grant Cartwright (Reverend John Hale)
Paul English (Thomas Putnam)
Anita Hegh (Elizabeth Proctor)
Brian Lipson (Deputy Governor Danforth)
Amanda McGregor (Betty)
John McTernan (Giles Corey
Elizabeth Nabben (Abigail Williams)
Sarah Ogden (Mary Warren)
Naomi Rukavina (Tituba)
Edwina Samuels (Mercy Lewis/Susanna Walcott)
Greg Stone (Reverend Parris)
James Wardlaw (Ezekiel Cheever)

L-R Sarah Ogden (Mary Warren), Edwina Samuels (Mercy Lewis), Elizabeth Nabben (Abigail Williams), Amanda McGregor (Betty in bed).  Photo © Jeff Busby

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