Storyhouse, Chester – until Saturday July 7th 2018
Reviewed by Julie Noller
Brought to the Storyhouse stage as part of their made by season, The Crucible tells the truthful yet fanciful turn of the events surrounding the 1690’s Salem witch hunts. Written by playwright Arthur Miller in a time that saw parallels drawn against the red mist descending upon 1950’s America and the highly publicised McCarthy hunts for un-American behaviour.
When I printed our tickets in the foyer and noted that we would be sitting in the Circle, it never occurred to me the wonder of a thoroughly modern theatre. That the floor had been raised and we would be sitting not looking down towards the stage but actually on a level with it.
The Direction by Geraldine Alexander is superb, the set is simple yet effective. Once the play begins you believe you are in the woods with the dancing hysterical young girls, you believe you could be sitting in the attic as part of the mob crowd passing judgement on the families and small isolated townsfolk of Salem. The dialect spoken is predominantly Yorkshire reminding us somewhat that these Puritan people were settlers, the god fearing folk who left the shores of England for the new world.
This is a stellar cast and all acting deserves a mention for being strong, a total masterclass of the craft and fine art of storytelling. You will be shaking your head in disbelief, you will find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat as thanks to Millers skills in retelling the bare simple facts you wonder how it ever got past the point of no return. From the start poor slave girl Tituba (Natasha Bain) with her soulful Bajan chants finds her cards marked. She is loyal yet she appeals to the sensitivities of the young girls and their curious minds. No good christian girl could be guilty of witchcraft surely their must be devils work at hand and who else could be to blame than a foreigner (this fact rises up even today and shockingly stares you in the face). Daniel Flynn as the ambitious and pious Reverend Parris who ultimately abuses his position from preaching hell’s eternal fires to pointing the finger of blame. Burying his head and refusing to look towards his own daughter and niece. He makes you hate and pity him all at once whilst equally looking towards him with blame in your heart for you can see how simply things escalated out of control. Gay Soper as Rebecca Nurse, is a gentle caring old woman who stands accused, she to me is a voice of reason as she speaks of the young girls with calmness saying they need patience and in time they will return to normality. She comes to be accused simply for being a midwife and in a time where unexplained infant deaths and grief must be because of witchcraft. Executions do take place but thankfully off stage, highlighting the powerful and emotive subject, elevating the grusomness to imaginative levels of shock and repulsion. Leigh Quinn as misguided young servant Mary Warren appears to show some understanding of events and faced with her mistresses arrest and masters distress admits her part in the pretence. She can not explain why her actions were so, simply as one so young she doesn’t have the vocabulary or understanding. And neither it soon becomes apparent do the adults. Judge Hathorne (David Nellist) for one who claims to uphold the law, listens to no one who may speak reason and truth but lives by the letter of the law in a black or white Utopian land where the devil exists and must be banished. Reverend Hale (a brilliant Freddy Elletson) who at first appears a somewhat weak if not a man of books, refuses to pass judgement on any citizen as in his mind, he does not know them well enough to pass judgement. Finally finds his voice to decry the court proceedings all too late for the mob rule with fear, the accused confess to save being hanged. Our hero if we must have one and you wonder if it is the voice of Arthur Miller talking, is John Proctor (masterful Matthew Flynn) a strong willed and strong bodied farmer who attempts to complain about how Reverend Parris scares and cares more for his own means than his congregation. How sermons of hells fires are not preaching goodness but driving away his flock, are met with disbelief and point towards his guilt as the devils bidder. His sins of the flesh with a young Abigail Williams (Eleanor Sutton) who as the icy cold teenage ring leader is as calculating as any scorned young woman could be. She is callous and spiteful but oh so clever. You wonder if her friends have any idea how she controls them not with witchcraft but her own selfish personality. The plain truth is outed in one simple line by accused Elizabeth Proctor (Mary Doherty) she wants me dead and wants to take my place. It’s the age old tale of jealousy raising it’s head, wanting something she can’t and as god dictates should not have. Yet here she is as a strong willed teenager rebelling and not living by any rules but her own.
The Crucible is a magnificent play with a strong moral code that remains relevant even by today’s standards. You see the harm one person can do if lies are allowed to grow and develop. You look towards today’s society with it’s infatuation over social media and realise this is our witch hunt, teenagers and adults alike show no remorse over repeating hurtful comments and lies are quickly spread to destroy lives. It makes you wonder what comes next and as humans will we ever learn from our past?