first night

The Crucible

Nikki Toddhunter spends an evening in Salem with BTC's production of 'The Crucible'

 

As Bailey Theatre Company’s first large production in several years, The Crucible – a three-hour drama by Arthur Miller following a dramatized (and partly fictionalized) account of the Salem witch trials, and an allegory of US McCarthyism during the 1950s – was arguably an ambitious choice. However, the challenges of the production were met admirably by the largely first- and second-years cast and crew.

Particular mention must go to Sophie Wright (playing Abigail) who portrayed the complexities of her character compellingly, and was a stand-out member of the cast. Sam Newton (John Proctor) and Erin Welch (Elizabeth Proctor) were impressive as a pair, carrying the emotion of several key scenes well. The characterisation of the two older male characters Giles (portrayed by Garreth Frank) and Francis Nurse (Greg Plummer) left a little to be desired, as they were a bit too spry for pensioners; both could have taken some cues from Miranda Phillips (Rebecca Nurse) in this respect.

The success of the directors (Nikhil Vyas and Natasha Tomkinson) was evident in the ease with which the lines were delivered by the cast. They navigated the sometimes tricky archaic language of the play to extract the real emotion and meaning at its core, and by and large the delivery of the lines was very natural (not always an easy task with this style of speech). Josie Williams in particular handled her lines excellently, in one of the most believable performances of this type of language I have seen in a student production.

The decision by the directors not to stage this play in American accents was probably a wise one, given the often patchy quality of sustained accents among student actors. Maurice Samely (Ezekiel Cheever) deserves special mention not only for his performance but for his excellent – if a little out-of-place in 17th Century Massachusetts – Geordie accent. The issue of accent was also tackled well when it came to Barbadian character Tituba. The portrayal of this character by a white actress could have been problematic if done badly, but Miriam Brittenden did an excellent job with an authentic-sounding, not in the least caricatured, Caribbean accent.

The energy of the performance was sustained through three sections, which can be a challenge with such an intense play. The one negative impact of this energy was that a large proportion of the cast suffered from a tendency to fall back on a rather shouty delivery as the tension rose towards the second half. Though this was certainly called for at times, the intimacy of the space allows for more nuanced portrayal of emotion; I certainly felt the cast has the ability to achieve this.

The staging, using a thrust-stage layout with the actors on the same level as the audience, worked well for most of the show, though the space downstage towards the audience was sometimes under-used, with the tendency for the actors to bunch at the back of the stage in some scenes.

Leech Hall clearly presented a variety of challenges in terms of staging and technical issues, and although the play had its teething troubles, these were very minor for the opening night in a tricky venue. Some rather jerky musical and lighting transitions did jar the audience somewhat, but the production team must be given credit for working with that they have. Nevertheless, the cast truly carried the show, evidently under excellent direction; this was a thoroughly enjoyable production of The Crucible, and an effort that all at BTC should be proud of.

 

6 December 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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