Theatre Review - The Crucible, The Storyhouse, Chester
- Credit: Archant
A cocktail of passion, revenge and hysteria leads to imprisonments and hangings in this Arthur Miller play based on the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Marie Easom writes.
Set in 1692 in the deeply Puritanical Salem, the play begins with Reverend Parris catching his daughter Betty, his niece Abigail Williams and other girls dancing in the woods at night with his Barbadian slave, Tituba. Startled and frightened by his appearance, Betty faints and cannot be revived. True to the beliefs of the time, her malaise is soon attributed to witchcraft and evil spirits, and Parris quickly learns from questioning Abigail that the girls were doing rather more than ‘dancing’. As Parris departs, Abigail is left alone with a local farmer, John Proctor, with whom she had an affair while working as a maid in his house until his wife threw Abigail out. Eleanor Sutton (Abigail) gives a fabulous portrayal of the furious young woman (certainly no ‘girl’) who insists that she and John belong together, and that his cold wife is the only obstruction.
John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth are tiptoeing around each other after his affair with Abigail; their new maid, Mary Warren, arrives home and gifts Elizabeth a poppet she made while in court earlier, where she was helping to name yet more people as witches. She and the other girls scream, faint and self-harm as proof that the accused has sent out their spirit to attack them, leading to the accused being jailed and eventually hanged – caught in that traditional bind - unless of course they confess.
The play was intense throughout, with emotions twisted and tightened right up to the conclusion. The pared-down set made good use of different levels of the stage wherever possible.
The cast was well chosen but oh my, Matthew Flynn was a spectacular, powerful John Proctor, and easily the star of the show for me. His was an uncompromising, conflicted and utterly believable character, and even though I know the story, I was entranced and hanging on his every word as he battled whether to do the right thing, or what is right, whatever that might mean. It is worth going to see The Crucible just to watch his performance.
Mary Doherty as the deeply principled Elizabeth Proctor was another favourite of mine, as she too battled with her own conflict to protect her husband’s good name, or maintain her own moral code. I never thought I’d ask for more histrionics, but I would have liked the girls to portray more fully the degree of power they wielded, to demonstrate why they were so readily believed.
The Crucible plays until 7 July at The Storyhouse, Chester
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