Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Douglas Rintoul
Reviewer: Dan English
Salem, 1692. A witchcraft hunt has gripped a rural Massachusetts community with women across the town accused of worshipping Satan. Reverend Parris, whose daughter and niece appear to have succumbed to the Devil’s seduction, leads a crusade of his fledgling flock against the witches he claims to be within his parish. This is a staggering production, directed by Douglas Rintoul, of one of Arthur Miller’s more scintillating scripts.
Despite its rooting within the infamous witch trials, Miller’s script carries connotations to the age of anxiety in America, when individuals and groups were rooted out as communists in what became known as McCarthyism. The hunt for witches, and the fear and delirium that gripped the small village, mirrors the tensions that gripped America in the 1950s.
Charlie Condou’s Reverend Hale arrives as the town is in full hysteria. Condou’s Hale executes the character’s frustrating nature successfully, especially in fraught discussions with John Proctor (Eoin Slattery). His mild mannered nature is at odds with the panic that engulfs the community but what is most intriguing is the immediate irritation Condou’s character evokes through his initial blindness to the events that are unfolding.
Slattery’s John Proctor and Victoria Yeates’ Elizabeth, wife of John, conjure a fragile relationship between the accused couple. As Proctor vehemently protests the existence of witches, Slattery delivers this with such ease that every line of his is instantly engaging. Likewise, Yates’ Elizabeth is subtly crafted, with slight gestures and expressions painting more than any line. Their final scene together, during the play’s denouement, encompasses all of the relationship they have sculpted beautifully.
Cornelius Clarke’s Reverend Parris draws links to his historical counterpart in good detail. It is clear that Parris is overwhelmed by pressures that come with being a rural Reverend, with Clarke’s performance arousing suspicion about his character from its first moments.
Diana Yekinni’s Tituba, the Caribbean slave whose actions in the woods spark the panic, is one the play’s hidden gems during its exposition. There are moments of real emotion from Yekinna as she protests and then succumbs to the accusations thrown at her. Her interaction with Condou during her interrogation is gripping and serves well to set the play up with intrigue from the start.
The trial scenes are moments of real tension, but at times the pantomime nature of them do overshadow the more engaging moments. Miller writes the scenes in such a way that demonstrates its absurdness, but it does feel that this production does, at times, heighten it too far, particularly in the manner of the overexuberant questioning the Proctor’s are subjected too.
Anouk Schiltz’s design is claustrophobic yet captures the simplicity of the community it’s set within. Outlined by wooden boards, the design gives connotations of barns and farming building. Moreover, it is often supported with large looming tree trunks around the perimeter; a clear allusion to the fate the befell victims of the trials. The set dominates centre stage, leaving either wing clear of backdrops. It feels as though this is a deliberate decision to connote the close nature of the community but the enclosure of those accused as the trials continued. The stripped design during the trials themselves work well to evoke images of the gallows where the accused witches were destined for.
Miller’s play certainly sparks renewed interest in the persecution of supposed communists during 50s America, but, in this time of great political upheaval and persecution, feels more relevant than ever. Although a lengthy outing, this is a timely piece that ties the pitfalls political upheaval with the dangers of religious fanaticism exquisitely.
Runs until 18 March 2017 | Image: Alessia Chinazzo