By Alice Evans
Set in the 1690s, written in the 1950s, and performed in 2014, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible transcends many temporal barriers. The Bailey Theatre Company’s production must be commended for capturing the magic of the show, and successfully transcending any potential issues that they may have faced.
Firstly, plays with formidably large casts can sometimes result in poor actors performing important roles badly. It is often the case that, due to a low turn out at auditions, someone awful will be in charge of a smaller role.
Bailey Theatre Company did not have this problem. Refreshingly, some of the most compelling performances came from the smaller roles tonight. Particular praise goes to Maurice Samely’s Cheever, and Miranda Phillips’ Rebecca Nurse. Samely was comfortable, confident, put on a well-mastered North-east accent, and above all simply enjoyed his time on stage. Phillips’ lulling, maternal voice brought an incredibly gentle presence to each of her scenes. There is no such thing as a small role, only small actors. These two proved this tonight by being some of the biggest actors in the cast.
In terms of lighting, the crew did a fantastic job, particularly considering that Leech Hall in John’s College does not often host productions. Some incredibly clever lighting work was displayed through shadows, depicting both Giles’ gruesome death by crushing, and John’s death by hanging. It was interesting how, by only using the shadows at these two moments, they were linked together; in the final moments of the play where John’s hanging is represented, we are visually reminded on Giles’ death, and therefore the horror of corruption and misdirected blame.
The cast rose to the challenge of many Millerisms: characterisation in scrupulous detail, stringently strict staging and a plenitude of interruptions in the conversations. However, one possible improvement to be made for the final performance tomorrow night is that the cast could have enjoyed the funny moments of the script more. For example, the ridiculous weight behind which the women put Ruth’s sneeze as a sign of life (“it were a grand sneeze”) and the unassuming energy with which they suggest they hit the unconscious Betty around the face to wake her up.
The staging was very carefully executed, aside from the odd moment when people directed their lines upstage and the sound was lost a little to one side of the audience. In general though, the cast had confident voices and crisp diction, keeping their natural mood rather than becoming too stage-conscious. An excellent piece of direction ends the scene when Abigail and Betty clamour and accuse half of the women in Salem.
Despite the excellent performances from many of the cast, Sam Newton was by far the stand out star from tonight, as the protagonist, John Proctor. It is a massive moment in the history of the theatre when John admits to lechery, which Newton superbly acted. The audience really felt the tragedy of how the only time Elizabeth lies, is the only time Proctor needs her to be truthful. The final scene when John and Elizabeth say goodbye is deliciously tragic.
Tonight’s performance was long – 2 and half hours – and the cast did well to keep the energy levels up throughout. The length is important as it allows the audience to feel the pain of the tension before the hangings, and the skill of the performers ensured that this tension did not turn to boredom.
The destructive blame culture of this society resonates across the centuries – and this is captured most clearly when Danforth exclaims that “You most certainly saw someone with the Devil!”. The chilling ability for people to ruin each other, as well as for the potential children have to destroy their communities, is as poignant now as it was in 1692. The Crucible therefore remains one of the most engaging plays to come out of the 1950s, and the Bailey Theatre Company have done an excellent job of demonstrating this.
Photograph: Juliano Soares