Friday 4 May 2018

The Crucible

Curve, Leicester
3rd May, 2018

There is a prodigious fear of this court in the country

Curve’s commitment to providing communal theatre projects is second to none, with the annual community productions (this year’s Fiddler On The Roof looks set to be the biggest yet, with a cast of over 100!) and their long-standing working relationship with De Montfort University students. It gives the Drama and Performing Arts students the opportunity to make use of the facilities and in-house creatives at one of the UK’s leading regional theatres. It also gives Curve the opportunity to reach out to a new generation of people eager to bring a fresh and eager approach to old texts. This year’s collaboration is arguably the most ambitious yet as the DMU drama students, led by director Siobhan Cannon-Brownlie, take on Arthur Miller’s seminal classic, The Crucible.

A small-town community gradually turns against each other amidst vengefulness, tarnished honour, and fear. Much has been made of the play’s unnerving timelessness – from the McCarthyism that inspired Miller, to harassment accusations and celebrity sex scandals (the recent court case between Cliff Richard and the BBC being a prime example), and even the hype and furore over ‘fake news’. So naturally there’s a great amount of scope for style, satire and hard-hitting home truths – whether that manifests through becoming a period piece, focussing on contemporaneity, or perhaps highlighting aspects of society that have perhaps flown under the radar. Unfortunately, Cannon-Brownlie lacks a clear ‘vision’ with her production. The characters seem to be from the 21st Century, yet a certain ramshackle assortment of costumes – from ultra-modern cropped hoodies, to 60’s housewife pertness and pearls, to clergyman smocks which wouldn’t look out of place in an Edwardian vicarage – elicit a sense of uncertainty. A stronger sense of intent would be welcome and, I feel, having a definitive and identifiable setting would have held this production together better. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they had to crowbar an agenda onto their production, but giving it more specificity would’ve given the actors a little more in which to invest. David Hately’s lighting is simple yet striking. Al Parkinson’s imposing set involves a crucifix formation made from spaces in concrete blocks which is a neat idea to suggest the weight of the repressing forces at play. However, the design constricts the action and pushes the actors too far forward and gives them little room to traverse the stage. This causes what are dynamic scenes to feel a little picture-book tableau in style.

Where the production shines is the performances. The wild coven of vengeful girls demonstrates the terror of pack mentality, while Rebecca Woodford handled her last-minute appointment to the role of Judge Hathorne with great tact and dignity. Eleanor Page gives a mature, subtle, yet emotive performance as the stoic Elizabeth Proctor and Calum Harris conveys the conflict between obligation and morality that I’ve rarely acknowledged before in Danforth. Page and Harris’ court confrontation was the dramatic highlight of the evening. In fact, the court scenes stand out in general and, aided by Tash Taylor Johnson’s pulsating bass score, the tension builds nicely throughout the final act to the sobering conclusion.

While this production may be a little overwhelmed by Miller’s play, it remains a joy to see up and coming young talent at work, and I look forward to future Curve and DMU co-productions.

The Crucible plays at Curve, Leicester, until 5th May 2018.

The cast of The Crucible. Credit: Mark Barnett.

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