When in Salem: Review of Sport for Jove’s The Crucible
‘God is dead’, proclaims John Proctor in The Crucible (1953), echoing Fredrick Nietzsche’s words from The Gay Science in 1882. Although Miller and Nietzsche worked in separate areas, at the heart of both The Crucible and The Gay Science lays a struggle to overcome the same thing: a crisis of values.
Proctor is faced with an impossible choice: does one bend to local, judicial law or to the unwritten, personal, unassailable laws of conscience? Where should value be assigned? Unsurprisingly, both Miller and Nietzsche are in agreement; ultimately we must be true to our own sense of right, and not be led by the voice of the masses merely because it is the loudest. This is a question that each resident of the town must eventually come up against, with the Reverend Hale making for a particularly interesting character study.
The strict imposition of morals by society stifles and represses the individual. This is more than evident in the 1690s puritan community of Salem. Director Damian Ryan writes in his treatment of the play that the source of the town’s woes stem from its desire to curtail the sexual impulses of young women. They are denied their human instinct, and so take to clandestine romps in the woods, where they are afforded the opportunity to return, if ever so briefly, to their more animalistic nature. When they are discovered they feign illness to save face, and from there all our tragedy transpires. Nietzsche was of course militantly anti-Christian, it’s one of the only sure things that can be said about him, but he saw the strict adherence to Christian morals as an attempt to deny our true nature. Watching The Crucible it is hard to disagree.
Of course, Miller is writing about so much more than this. It is a story about the historical witch trials as well as being an allegory of McCarthyism and the committee of Un-American activities. It is also a reminder that even today we are susceptible to messages of fear and hysteria that are perpetuated by governments, the media and across social networks. We need to be ever vigilant; we must guard against being swept up by popular opinion and we must be weary of the motives of those who champion these opinions. In this regard Miller’s play is timeless, as all great theatre is.
The ensemble worked solidly and tirelessly together. There is little to fault excepting that the Puritan dialect, though perfectly sounded, was spoken in such a dervish that lines were occasionally swallowed. The production is capably led by Julian Garner as John Proctor, a flawed but essentially good man. Proctor’s sense of duty to both household and self is strong in this production and it makes for great theatre. Playing beside him is Georgia Adamson, wonderfully cast as the plain Elizabeth Proctor. Adamson is thoroughly engaging; by her hand, we better understand the tender though strained dynamics between the couple. Matilda Ridgway is once again a standout as the young Mary Warren. She is barely recognizable from her previous cast (Nora in A Doll’s House). Ridgway peppers this character with a sense of premature independence. She is a good person, though she is still impressionable.
In the role of Reverend John Hale is Anthony Gooley, also from A Doll’s House. Gooley is more in his element here. He casts Hale as a strong, faith driven man who is subsequently challenged by the dark truth of the matter. His beliefs are shaken, and his guilt is real. Phillip Dodd plays the forthright Judge Danforth. Dodd possesses the perfectly observed air of authority and his speech drips with condescension, a careful mix of education and ignorance. In the now famous role of Abigail Williams is Lizzie Schebesta. Schebesta was perfectly cast. The role is smaller than many imagine but Schebesta nevertheless drew out Abigail’s conflict and manipulation. She is a calculating youth, ultimately addicted to her newly discovered sexual prowess. Here Schebesta shows us how powerful lust and sexual desire is when it comes to running or ruining the world.
Special mention goes to Suzanne Pereira as Tituba. Pereira has a wonderful presence in this production. She perfectly pitches the Bajan dialect which plays heavily on the voodoo foreignness of Tituba. Annie Byron was also impressive as Rebecca Nurse, whose portrayal of the aged voice of reason gave great weight to the production.
Ryan places his play in a rustic barn, which lends itself perfectly to the aesthetic of the era. Before the action begins the audience is treated to a walking tour of Salem. A sinister chord is set by the various cast members strategically placed around the heritage buildings as we witness the girls dancing in the woods. Candle light flickers against the barn’s dusty boards and a collection of dangling chains. An impromptu shower of rain only adds to the atmosphere, which is both threatening and beautiful.
The Crucible is such a fine piece of writing that it will shine regardless of its staging. But in the hands of this faultless troupe of actors and under the guidance of Ryan, Miller’s play truly sings, making for a night of unforgettable theatre.
The Crucible is playing only until the 25th of December at the Bella Vista Farm, so give yourself an early Christmas present and get along. For more information see: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/theatre-play/the-crucible