Joanna Alpern reviews ‘The Crucible’, at the Barron Theatre, St Andrews, 21 March 2012
The first definition you’ll come across by typing ‘define crucible’ into Google is this:
Noun: A ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
And seeing Christina Richard’s production of The Crucible at the Barron was indeed like sitting, panic-stricken, in a near-boiling cauldron-pot of intensity. Whether for accusations of witchcraft or for suggestions of McCarthyism, paranoia and anxiety were at the forefront of this production. It refused the label of any fixed era and instead laid bare the timeless terror and universal cruelty of human nature.
There was no real set or props of which to speak of, which enabled the actors to use the entirety of the Barron’s space; the costumes were basic: red, black and white, and contemporary; and the movement was static, with most of the actors standing statue-still throughout scenes. This minimalist approach forced the audience to focus on the psychological trauma of the characters, and so the production relied heavily on the quality of its acting.
And fortunately, the cast delivered. Throughout this long, three-hour performance, the sharp pace was maintained and scenes were consistently built up to incredible levels of tension – the static staging only made the central action seem more frenzied. Specific breaking points include every time the girls screamingly condemned their fellow villagers, and the interrogation of Elizabeth Proctor by a ruthless Judge Danforth with Abigail and John facing the audience and practically shaking in trepidation. Often the audience were reduced to laughter at moments that were not comical at all but shocking, just in an attempt to break the tension, at John’s forgetting the commandment forbidding adultery, and at Judge Danforth’s cowardly asking Hale to take his place in dealing with the tormented Elizabeth, to name but two occurrences.
Hannah Boland demonstrated fear excellently, shuddering and quivering throughout. She was also very good at the sly, telling side-glances in the midst of an innocent façade, as was Cara Mahoney, but I thought more could have been made of Abigail’s bitter and sinister power over everyone. It was somewhat dwarfed by Ben Wallo’s tyrannical rendition of Judge Danforth, which began much like his sociopathic O’Brien of a week before, (I was actually scared to be sat in the front row as he prowled his way over to stage-left,) but it progressed in a wonderfully vulnerable, emotional way in later scenes. Ayanna Coleman was touching as the wronged wife and Ku Alem’s sustained Barbados accent, Rachel Tam’s tears and Beth Robertson’s possessed outbursts were particularly impressive from an all-round strong cast.
But it was David Patterson who was truly phenomenal as the self-righteous, stubborn, ultimately noble John Proctor. Skilfully controlling his breathing when in the presence of the taunting Abigail, always reacting quickly and angrily to his antagonists, and delivering some powerful rhetoric throughout, Patterson’s performance was professional and believable.
I’m very grateful that the set and the props and much of the movement had been reduced and stripped to a bare minimum. It allowed for some uninhibited and sensational acting to take place.
Image credit – Tim Foley