The Crucible

Tue 21st – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Ella Griffiths

at 02:37 on 22nd Aug 2012

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Miller’s famous modern tragedy shines in this engaging and powerful production enlivened by numerous excellent performances. Bristling with a tangible sense of hysterical paranoia, the young actors of Close Up Theatre offer a traditional and haunting depiction of religious fundamentalism in their interpretation of ‘The Crucible’. In depicting the witchcraft trials of Salem Massachusetts in 1692, parabolic of Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist frenzy in 1950’s America, this strong cast of actors impressively convey the immense consequences of such intolerance upon an insular community.

Despite fluctuating American accents, this tight and well-rehearsed ensemble in authentically rustic costumes work closely together and master the archaic diction in order to provide a near-professional production. A number of effective touches further intensify the quality of the play, such as opening with the cast hissing accusations at audience members under ethereal blue lighting and ominous shouting outside the auditorium. Lighting up the puritanically bare stage are Eleanor Williams as a manipulative yet disarmingly girlish Abigail and a brooding, virtuous Elizabeth played by Beatrice Lawrence, while Tona Katto made a promising debut in her transfixing portrayal of the vilified Tituba. Their male counterparts were equally excellent, with Oscar Osicki’s endearing Giles Corey complementing the rugged virility and tortured strength of Charles Coombs as John Proctor. Alistair Chapman also deserves a mention for diligently struggling through Act One despite an attack of tonsillitis, as does Charles Carden for becoming his impromptu replacement.

Although many scenes generated real pathos, especially due to the deep and fragile chemistry between John and Elizabeth, it sometimes felt as if more dramatic friction or urgent rawness was needed to make the production truly outstanding. While the complex blocking could have left the stage feeling crowded as the large cast dominated visually, it actually created a heightened feeling of the claustrophobic superstition infecting the mob. However, the occasional use of recorded atmospheric music soon became less an intensification of mood and more a trite emotional signal for the audience, with minor strings feeling interposed and overly semiotic. Despite being competent, the lighting also could have benefitted from a more exciting and refreshing use of colour and variety at specific points.

Nevertheless, this was a good piece of theatre with scenes of disturbing power, most memorable in instances of unsettling demonic possessions that evoke the sheer electricity of the play without melodrama. With a further injection of panicked grit and burning menace, this absorbing exposition of the human capacity for falsity could see elevation to the highest level of tragedy.

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Jenni Reid

at 08:35 on 22nd Aug 2012

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As we enter the Greenside theatre, atmospheric blue lighting fills the room and cast members surround the audience in various dramatic poses, muttering quietly about the supernatural. We gain a sense of the foreboding which approaches us in this production of Arthur Miller’s classic tale of the Salem Witch Trials, but it is all a little too overdramatic for my tastes. When ominous music blasts from speakers to signal the start of the show, it likewise seems somewhat out of place with the small stage and young actors. However this is a production which grows into its own loftiness and, once the most talented actors of the group really begin to show us their best, it manages to use Miller’s moving script to full effect.

The opening scene is the least impressive of the show, which is a shame since it lowers the audience's expectations of the actors, many of whom turn out to be very good. There are some dodgy accents to be found, as well as forced speech patterns, especially when trying to include regional dialects; when Susannah cries, “he have been searchin’ his books since he left you, sir”, it sounds painfully unnatural. At other times characters’ accents sound more like Valley Girls gossiping at the mall than 17th Century pilgrims. Having noted Alistair Chapman’s Reverend Parris as having weak vocals, poor enunciation and not enough stage presence in this scene, I felt rather guilty at the interval upon learning that Chapman was suffering from Tonsillitis so bad he was unable to come on for the second act. In which case his performance was actually very commendable. This incident was dealt with very professionally by the cast, with Charles Carden admirably balancing the roles of Parris and Thomas Putnam from then on.

For me the stand-out actor of the show was Samuel Metcalfe as Judge Danforth, since this is a much more difficult role to make an impression in than the other more emotionally charged leads. I found his arrival to mark a change in the standard of the production from Sixth Form play to high-class piece of theatre. He was not only fantastically strong in his delivery but also perfectly conveyed the nuances of Danforth as a menacing, volatile threat – steadfast in his claims to his own righteousness, but with an underlying knowingness of the absurdity of it all. Beatrice Lawrence as Elizabeth Proctor was also excellent, and the quiet domestic scene between the Proctors had more tension than the far more dramatic one preceding it due to the wonderful chemistry between the two actors. When the two reunite alone on stage at the end of the play we are left with a brilliant contrast between their lives before and after ruin, and their final exchange is greatly moving.

Once you start to get into the Edinburgh Fringe mindset, any show over an hour seems long, so at two and a half hours the Crucible needed to be on consistent good form and keep us in its grasp for it to not leave us grumbling. Nothing truly exceptional is to be found here; but this is still an extremely competent production with sharp technical work, a talented cast, and fleeting moments which are very special.

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