Hilary Chan reviews Mermaids’ recent production of Arthur Miller’s famous play, The Crucible, in the Byre.

Staging The Crucible was an audacious decision on the director’s part. Arthur Miller’s timeless retelling of Salem’s witch trials in 17th century Massachusetts, which descends into delirious, senseless slaughter, is a leviathan in the literary realm, coldly judging history again and again in a robe of splendiferous artistic achievement. This is a play that confronts the collective and shakes it twice: as Salem spirals into mass executions, it questions our ethics towards the physical and our mental vulnerability to communal madness. At the same time, it does not neglect to abuse the individual in its path of soul-searching, or to interrogate the complex strings of love and duty within a family. The Crucible is an utterly ruthless play, vicious like its own Abigail as it browbeats the audience relentlessly. And for this reason the Mermaids’ production is good—but simply not good enough.

That is less a fault of its student crew and cast than the play’s brilliant intensity. Many of the actors are unmistakably talented. Martina Sardelli’s presentation of Mercy Lewis was mean with juvenile duplicity, exactly as required. Mary Warren’s cowardliness and childish instability was mostly conveyed in Alexandra Upton’s performance. Adam Spencer’s representation of Reverend Hale’s bookish devotion is memorable; this pleasant match between an actor’s physique and an iconic character was a good find on the director’s part. The star of the show was Lydia Seed, who played Elizabeth Proctor. Her grasp of Elizabeth’s contradictory power over justice, by rigorous self-discipline, was demonstrated in her mastery of subtle body language, facial expression and vocal delivery.

Unfortunately, Miller’s play demands absolute perfection. Every minor character is a mystery on their own, and cannot tolerate simplification, something which was a detriment to this production. Additional peccadilloes include the projection of actors’ voices, their lack of stage presence, body language and use of pauses, as well as the distraction of Giles’ walking stick being too short. These are forgivable sins for a student production but cannot be overlooked in a play that seeks to amplify and interrogate every corner of the human soul. Director Grace Cowie’s injection of humour through characters such as George Watts’s Ezekiel Cheever would be even more appreciated as a breather if the rest of the play had lived up to its intensity.

To conclude, Mermaids’ production was very fine for what it was, but still fell too short for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Rating: ****