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Regents Park Open Air Theatre presents


The Crucible

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(Mary-Warren) The Crucible. Photo-Catherine-Ashmore

 

 


By Arthur Miller


Directed by Timothy Sheader


Open Air Theatre Regents Park

 

24 May - 19 June 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

It was a great treat to fall in step with the well heeled audience of Regent's Park Open Air Theatre on a summer evening and I'm always interested in seeing a new production of The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s dramatization of the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693. I saw this play put on by the RSC in the West End in 2006 and a more modest fringe production at Theatro Technis soon after, both thrilling productions, the first as expansive as the second was intense, almost whispered. Both as gripping, fierce, emotionally and intellectually challenging as The Crucible should be and both much better, sadly, than this one. Open air productions always have an uphill struggle to create atmosphere and make the audience really care about the characters and their relationships, there seems to be more distance between the stage and the audience so more effort is required. On this occasion, the essence of the play seemed to dissipate somehow.


The Crucible is about an isolated settler community, surrounded by the yet unknown and perhaps terrible New World where ‘reddish work’ like the murder of Abigail’s parents in their beds by ‘Indians’ could happen and where religion is the only glue holding their little society together. John Proctor (Patrick O’Kane), seduced by the knowing and manipulative Abigail (Emily Taaffe), is a very American everyman, confident enough to enjoy the freedom this new land allows and independent enough to see the malicious motivations and panic driving the witch trials for what they are, if a little too self-centred to intuit the repercussions of his adultery, on his wife and, the wider community. The play follows the mischief of a group of teenage girls led by Abigail who are caught dancing in the woods with Tituba (Anni Domingo), the West Indian slave of Reverend Parris (Christopher Fulford). When the Reverend’s daughter Betty (Ellie Paskell) won’t wake, witchcraft is suspected and the full authority of the church descends on the village, accepting the girls as ciphers of evil and hanging anyone they name as a witch. It is inevitable that Proctor, the immovable object must confront the church, the unstoppable force. Arthur Miller wrote the play as an allegory of McCarthyism and a polemic against the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities which convicted him of "contempt of Congress" for failing to identify others present at political meetings he had attended.


The setting of this production, designed by Jon Bausor, was of a New England clapper board house, the tilted gable end being the stage with the windows providing trap doors from which various items and characters accompanied by hellish flames and sound effects, cleverly appeared and disappeared in a kind of trompe-l'œil where the smooth mechanical works are hidden and the whole production seemed to be tipping into the audience amphitheatre giving it a rather vertiginous feel. The substantial creative team produced many wondrous strange events, technically accomplished and germane to the play's setting. The formal singing which opened the play gave a real sense of time and place. However, as dusk fell and the series of events which leads to such a sinister conclusion in the play should have gathered pace and although the cast were playing to a completely full house, the atmosphere remained curiously dispassionate, as if we really were scientists examining inert substances reacting in a laboratory crucible.


What of the stirring tale of Giles Corey who cried ‘More weight’ when he was being pressed, literally, to confess? It passed almost without notice, as a hurried exchange between John Proctor and his wife. What of John Proctor’s famous stand against injustice, his willingness, finally, to die rather than to give up his individual agency and act as an instrument of Power? The potential of the final scenes to raise the big questions and stir the audience was lost in the detail.


This is a modern classic and deserves the expense lavished on this production, so why did the acting feel so perfunctory? In the event, people were leaving the audience before the end like football supporters heading for the exit to beat the crowds in a no score draw. In the programme, it is claimed the play is relevant not just to the paranoia which gripped early settlers of Massachusetts and to the McCarthyism of Miller's own time, but also to more current concerns about identity and fundamentalism, even to the notion of 'girl power'. Perhaps, in trying to relate to the play's 'breadth of possible interpretation', this production failed to fix on one of its own.

 


Regents Park Open Air Theatre
Regents Park Inner Circle
Mon-Sat 8pm, Sat matinee 2.30pm
Tickets: £19-£46
http://openairtheatre.org/pl113.html

 

 

 

 

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