mon 16/09/2019

The Crucible, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Crucible, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

The Crucible, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Arthur Miller's classic play gets the atmospheric treatment

Arthur Miller's classic play 'The Crucible' kicked off this year's rather dark summer programmeCatherine Ashmore

Usually a seasonal home for the pastel-coloured delights of drawing-room farce, musical comedy and the odd Shakespeare pastoral, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is this year offering a programme of rather darker hue. With Macbeth to follow later in the season (not to mention Stephen Sondheim’s deliciously off-white fairytale musical Into the Woods) it was with a new production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that things kicked off last night. The post-interval nightfall – so perfectly timed for the Act Two tribulations of a comedy – became the stifling moral blackness of a benighted Salem community, crowding in upon cast and audience until, at last, the final light was extinguished.

Usually a seasonal home for the pastel-coloured delights of drawing-room farce, musical comedy and the odd Shakespeare pastoral, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is this year offering a programme of rather darker hue. With Macbeth to follow later in the season (not to mention Stephen Sondheim’s deliciously off-white fairytale musical Into the Woods) it was with a new production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that things kicked off last night. The post-interval nightfall – so perfectly timed for the Act Two tribulations of a comedy – became the stifling moral blackness of a benighted Salem community, crowding in upon cast and audience until, at last, the final light was extinguished.

At the core of The Crucible is the act of bearing witness. Whether true or false, this act of giving testimony becomes the defining human – if not always humane – gesture of the play. Written in 1950s America, among the final violent contractions of social and political censorship that would give birth to the free speech of the 1960s, words are everything. Here we see them not only describe, claim and accuse, but also condemn, create and enact, as Miller interrogates his viewers on the central McCarthyist question: can saying ever make it so?

It seems perverse that a play about language should be brought so clearly into focus by the use of silence, but this is what Timothy Sheader’s production manages so effectively. Onstage throughout are 15 young girls. Clad in their Puritan best, they sit scattered about the grassy periphery of the main set, physically punctuating the space. Hands clasped, heads bowed, their white bonnets catch the fading light, drawing the eye to the slightest movement. A silent Greek chorus whose sole role is to respond, their simple miming gestures are performed in epic unison, magnifying their emphasis ten –or fifteen – fold. It is the contrast between the silent passivity of these mute observers and the terrible and potent agency that the play ascribes them that turns the dramatic screw of this production. Their constant presence draws attention precisely to their glaring absence within the text – the perpetual cipher at the heart of the play.

At the head of this silent army is Emily Taaffe’s fiercely erratic Abigail Williams. Slight of build, her physical presence a striking match for Patrick O’Kane’s tall and gangling John Proctor, she captures the strange otherness so essential to this troubled girl. Bettrys Jones’ Mary Warren is a useful foil, uncomplicated and sincere, and together with veterans Susan Engel (Rebecca Nurse) and Oliver Ford Davies (a chillingly righteous Deputy-Governor Danforth) delivers some of the evening’s most beautifully judged character acting. O’Kane’s rather uneven Proctor has more than a touch of Ralph Fiennes about it; awkward and painfully overstated in milder episodes, it grows into itself as the drama intensifies, climaxing in a daringly volatile confession scene that last night held a three-hours-and-counting audience rapt.

Jon Bausor’s Lars von Trier-esque set mirrors Sheader’s direction – simple and imaginatively emblematic. Lying flat on the ground, the body of the stage is a side section of an American barn, complete with windows that become the trapdoors through which the characters pass: a town and world turned topsy-turvy.

Faithful in costume and spirit to the setting of Miller’s original, the fidelity of the cast’s hotch-potch of accents is however a step too far. For the weight and conviction of a play about truth to fully translate surely the delivery of the lines themselves must itself be plausible? Particularly guilty is O’Kane, whose accent undertakes something of a trans-American road-trip throughout the course of the evening, jarring distractingly against the more convincing tones of others. With so strong a play such fussy details are simply not necessary – unanimity of accent, of whatever kind, would be preferable.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have proved themselves once again to be the masters of all they touch. Faithful, direct and uncomplicated – sometimes allegory just should be that simple.

Jon Bausor’s Lars von Trier-esque set mirrors Sheader’s direction – simple and imaginatively emblematic

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this was the most boring play in the world. our teacher had organized the trip for our english class, it was really hot and everyone was swetting we had a very short interbal and while we watched the play we were sitting right under the sun many of our classmates got sunburns aswell. the play was never worth it i didnt even understand what the hell was going on only bits of the play that i had understood. who ever bought tickets for it i recommend you not to watch it and claim your money back cause its like hell!!!!!!.

as a student it is important that you watch all sorts of plays for your creative development. watching good productions always will not make you critical of what you will do in your future career as an artists. apart from the the scorching heat that you complain of it to me you learnt something about what is a boring play.

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