Bewitching and Beguiling: The Crucible at the Storyhouse until 7th July
Forgive me, Excellency for I have had sinful thoughts. Namely, that I wasn’t prepared to really enjoy The Crucible. The play conjures up dark memories of hysterical teenage girls, of which I was one, forced to read the play in the turgid surroundings of a classroom.
However, Storyhouse have produced their most accomplished production yet. Let’s start with the set, which is of course the first thing we see. As befits the spartan existence of 17th century Puritan settlers in Massachusetts, the set seemed bare, but with such a clever use of trap doors and attic spaces. And in the blink of an eye, an attic room became the Proctor household, and then a court room, with the shadowy lighting playing its own role in providing a captivating atmosphere – flickering lantern light transformed to a pattern of bars upon the stage to reinforce the idea of entrapment and claustrophobia. And then there were the sound effects: whispering, babbling and chanting that told of secrets and rumours, and the mostly hidden backdrop of the great outdoors, tantalisingly out of reach for the trapped characters.
Which leads us onto the mesmerising performances of an extremely talented cast of actors. With the villagers dressed in their neutral clothes, and the stern men in black of the court, we were transported back to the Salem witch trial itself.
It seems harsh to single out performances amongst such a strong ensemble, but I was moved by Serena Evans as Anne Putnam when her voice subtly cracked with emotion when discussing her dead children. Natasha Bain as Tituba proved that even those at the bottom of the social hierarchy could conjure up strength and feistiness. Simeon Truby as Giles Corey provided much welcome yet brief moments of light relief, and Gay Soper as Rebecca Nurse conveyed matriarchal strength in that patriarchal society. Eleanor Sutton, playing Abigail Williams, showed that this really was a play of two halves: lurking in the shadows and portraying some vulnerability at the start, yet manipulative, defiant and dominant in the court room. Leigh Quinn as Mary Warren also showed great adaptability, and Matthew Flynn as John Proctor was superlative: dominating his home in the first half with enormous stage presence (and physique), whilst trembling in the court in the second half as truths and lies emerged simultaneously.
If all the world is a stage, then the Storyhouse is fortunate enough to be front stage, centre, on a global scale after last week’s VIP visitors. The Storyhouse websiterecorded about a gazillion hits from the USA in the hours after the royal visit. And this production of The Crucible is most definitely worthy of worldwide attention.