DramaNorth WestReview

The Crucible – Storyhouse, Chester

Writer: Arthur Miller

Director: Geraldine Alexander

Reviewer: Taylor Simmons 

The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s 1953 play set in Salem Massachusetts, tells the story of the 1692 Salem Witch trials.  Embedded in its original 17th-century setting, the realities of Puritan society are realised in Storyhouse’s latest production and, with it, the atmosphere of a claustrophobic paranoid fractured community.

Geraldine Alexander’s vision is powerful and intense. Its dark and chilling retelling grips the audience to the edge of their seats as the drama unfolds before them.  As an onlooker observing the hysteria, we can only watch the injustice with stunned silence which is what makes it all the more compelling.

As this production is performed in repertory, it can sometimes be the case that the casting isn’t a ‘glove-like jigsaw fit’ but not in the case of this production.  There is not a single weak performance.  In fact, it is the cohesive strength of the cast that makes this production all the more powerful.  From Eleanor Sutton’s cold and brazen interpretation of Abigail Williams to Matthew Flynn’s earthy and honourable interpretation of John Proctor, their connection is palpable making their history all the more tangible.

Yet it’s some of the less central roles that are the most powerful.  Gay Soper’s interpretation of Rebecca Nurse as moral, trusted and compassionate and Simeon Truby’s comical yet principled interpretation of Giles Corey were highlights. Reverend Hale can often be a difficult character to convey as he must journey from being the ‘outsider’ in this community integral to setting the events in motion to a character the audience can most identify with.  New graduate Freddy Elletson is commanding in this role, encouraging the audience to his side with ease and integrity.

Yet the standout performance is from that of Leigh Quinn as Mary Warren.  Her vulnerable pitiful portrayal of Mary as someone easily led is juxtaposed with her stentorian possessed outbursts; Quinn is nothing short of astonishing.  She has the ability to bring the audience along with her through every step of her journey .

The cohesion of the production is brought together by the extremely functional set design by Jess Curtis and the evocative lighting design by Chris Davey. The 17th-century setting is suggested by a simple yet functional design allowing the whole story to be told with one central space and backdrop. The dark floor to ceiling and wooden walls create the claustrophobic setting which is intensified all the more by the open bright ‘outside’ that is revealed each time the doors are opened. As an audience, you can’t help but feel trapped with the characters in the situation they find themselves in.

It is by no means a night of lighthearted theatre, as was Miller’s aim, but a piece of theatre you will leave charged and affected by. If you are looking for a night of thought-provoking powerful theatre with a message that bears relevance to today’s society, get to the Storyhouse quickly.

Runs in Rep until Saturday 7 July 2018 | Image: Contributed


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One Comment

  1. “If you are looking for a night of thought-provoking powerful theatre with a message that bears relevance to today’s society, get to the Storyhouse quickly”

    I agree. This is a production that deserves to be seen. I thought the staging allowed the script to do its work which is an approach I like and which, in a play like The Crucible, is perhaps more important than usual; and the acting was very fine across the board. Matthew Flynn dominated the stage as John Proctor – he actually seemed larger than life and the contrast between his performance and the other outstanding one from Leigh Quinn was very striking. Quinn superbly gets across the sense that Mary Warren would really rather be invisible than be forced to take sides. Freddy Elletson, as the review says, charts Hale’s change from earnest academic confident that the virtues of theology and jurispridence could deal with any problem to chastened human being utterly convinced that whatever was happening in Salem it wasn’t just or holy. The accent convention – generally northern English accents for the villagers, RP for the priests and lawyers – is hardly original but it is effective (unlike the last production I saw where the actors were allowed to use their own accents and sounded very strange in such a setting). The costumes allowed much more variety and individualism for the male characters while the women seemed almost to be in uniform. The short prologue with Tituba (Natasha Bain) singing and the girls dancing in white shifts at the rear of the stage before coming forward and, almost ritually, having their hair put up, heads covered and the shifts covered with shapeless grey frocks is one of the few touches that isn’t actually in the script and it works very well.

    ” As an onlooker observing the hysteria, we can only watch the injustice with stunned silence which is what makes it all the more compelling”

    There were at least two large school parties at the performance I saw but silence was maintained throughout. I know that young people are no more likely than others to be disruptive, but large parties of any kind can get restless if the production doesn’t hold their attention. This production seemed to keep everyone as spellbound as I was..

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