For school students like those from the American High School Theatre Festival, just putting a play like The Crucible on at the Fringe is a remarkable enough achievement. Arthur Miller’s acclaimed piece of American theatre, with its period language and colloquialisms, is a difficult play to read and grasp in full. This young cast however do a remarkable job of delivering a show to savour, with as little as possible trimmed off Miller’s original text while remaining as relevant and powerful as ever.
While the story is based on events in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, Miller wrote The Crucible as a parallel to McCarthy-ism and the Communist ‘witch hunt’ seen in 1950s USA. With this rendition, the costumes of the actors make it very ambiguous as to what era this play fits into, with some of the clothing looking a far cry from 17th Century attire. Rather than a criticism, it allows the story to have a contemporary relevance regarding American religion, politics and the justice system, and the play seems to occupy the past and the present simultaneously. With the current political climate in America, these are as relevant as ever. The group do well in communicating a new meaning in Miller’s words.
The actors filling the roles of John Proctor, Abigail, Danforth and Tituba do very well in communicating their feelings – be it anger, sadness or a raging fury. Tituba especially does well to be so memorable a character given her relatively small role. The relationship between Proctor and Abigail is portrayed in exactly the right way; fuelled by an emotional and physical intensity resulting from Abigail’s manipulative nature and Proctor’s guilt. Elizabeth Proctor is also realised very well onstage, as is Reverend Hale who cuts a stern but desperate figure throughout. Reverend Parris could have done with being slightly louder and more animated, capturing his growing insecurity and nervousness. In spite of this, the whole cast really do well and grow into the performance as it unfolds.
When The Crucible first ran back in 1953, Miller disliked how stylised this opening version was. This rendition could also have done with being a little more restrained. While not an endemic flaw, the multi-coloured and ever changing light arrangements do little to add to the atmosphere, although there are moments, such as during Act Three, that it does serve a purpose. Similarly, hearing the psalm singing in Act One makes sense but elsewhere the music feels out of place and unnecessary. Moments including Tituba being circled by the other characters, while the intention is obvious, feel too much and the play subsequently loses its sense of realism. It would have been better to leave these moments perfectly silent and naturalistic, allowing the characters to be the focus of attention.
This remains, however, a powerful rendition of a difficult play to put on effectively. The young cast do a good job of capturing the hysteria and explosiveness of the situation in Salem – an increasingly good job as the play goes on. It is a shame that some of the technicalities detract from the experience, because this is still an accomplished show from a group that has every right to a place at the Fringe.
theSpace @ Venue 45 (Venue 45)
Photo Credit: Jonah Price