Tag Archives: Stephanie Beattie

The Crucible

The Crucible

★★★★

Gielgud Theatre

THE CRUCIBLE at the Gielgud Theatre

★★★★

The Crucible

“A parable that certainly stands the test of time, its shadows crossing the centuries and still looming large today”

 

If you (falsely) confess to the charges levelled at you – your life is spared. If you (truthfully) deny them, even though the evidence is based on little more than mass hysteria, you will be hanged. A warped message, but one that resonates today, albeit in an exaggerated way. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” is based on the Salem witch trials of the 1690s but he openly presented it as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the US government persecuted people accused of being communists. Lyndsey Turner’s atmospheric revival stays faithful to Miller’s seventy-year-old classic, while allowing the audience to draw their own parallels with our contemporary world of cancel culture, social media groupthink and perceptions of reality. It sounds heady stuff, but the beauty of Turner’s interpretation is that these worries are triggered by straightforward, authentic and, at times, chilling drama.

There is no safety curtain in this production. Instead, a wall of rain pre-sets the action that unfolds on Es Devlin’s simple and sepulchral set. Tim Lutkin’s lighting casts whispers of horror while Tingying Dong’s soundscape illuminates the menace with the aural equivalent of dying candles. The young girls, innocent in appearance, writhe in unison, led by ringleader Abigail (a compelling Milly Alcock). It matters not whether their possession by the devil is real or not. The fatal effects on their elders – the supposedly authoritative members of society – are what propels the narrative. The outcome is guided by superstitions, and by unenlightened minds that eschew truth and reason in favour of their self-interested goals. The familiarity is sometimes uncomfortable as the focus regularly shifts from the accused to the accusers. The term ‘witch-hunt’ has become such a cliché, but Turner’s rich interpretation refreshes it without uprooting it from its origins.

The heart of the story, and it’s strongest moments of pathos, stem from joint protagonists John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth. Despite John’s dubious backstory and the marital discord, it is the redemptive qualities of their relationship that restores our faith and offers a fragile hope. Brian Gleeson has the charisma to marry Proctor’s rebellious defiance with a gentle dignity, ultimately admitting guilt to protect his wife and children. Caitlin Fitzgerald’s Elizabeth has a matching dignity, made stronger by the knocks it needs to withstand. Their scene together towards the climax of the show is a quiet moment of heartbreak that stands out above the wolflike baying.

Milly Alcock’s manipulative Abigail swings from endearing to malicious in a captivating performance, matched by Nia Towle’s Mary Warren, a fellow accuser who, too late, shows flashes of conscience. The voices of reason are mercifully heard above the clamour. Such as Tilly Tremayne’s Rebecca Nurse and Karl Johnson’s tragicomic portrayal of Giles Corey who exposes alternative motives for the trials. Accusations fly as irrationality poses as righteousness. Fisayo Akinade’s Reverend John Hale both embodies and exposes this in a remarkable performance that pins down disillusionment in the face of corruption and abuse.

At just under three hours the pace never seems slow. Miller’s language – its rhythms and patterns – can take the credit, but it has to share it with a tremendous company that honours the writer’s intentions. A parable that certainly stands the test of time, its shadows crossing the centuries and still looming large today. This revival is as dark as those shadows but is a shining example of how theatre can light up our lives.

 

 

Reviewed on 16th June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

2:22 A Ghost Story | ★★★★ | December 2021

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

Brimstone & Treacle – 4*

 

Brimstone & Treacle

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 6 May 2017

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

“A 4 star performance of a 1970’s play with thought-provoking and controversial content”

 

Dennis Potter, who died in 1994, was an acclaimed playwright best known for his BBC TV serials Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective. In 1976 he wrote Brimstone and Treacle which gets a revival at the popular Hope Theatre, Islington.

The original television play was withdrawn shortly before transmission due it containing scenes that were deemed too offensive to be shown in the 70’s. It was eventually broadcast some 11 years later though it premiered on stage in 1977 and a film version starring Sting was released in 1982.

The question to be posed today is will it be as shocking as it was felt to be 40 years ago?

In short the answer is yes. It is without doubt a fine piece of work expertly directed by the award winning Matthew Parker but it carries a warning – there are disturbing scenes of sexual violence and extreme racism which many may find offensive.

The play is about Martin, a young man who thinks he’s the devil. He visits Mr & Mrs Bates, a couple caring for their bedridden daughter Pattie who was a victim of a road accident 2 years ago that left her brain damaged and profoundly disabled. The room is set in a suburb of North London and the play takes place over two days in September 1977.

The set designed by Rachael Ryan is simple yet it reflects perfectly the era with its brown patterned wallpaper, coffee set, crochet blanket and utility furniture. The performance is enhanced by devilish sound and flickering lights.

Mrs Bates has taken the larger share of the caring. She has dedicated the last two years to care for her daughter and has an optimistic view of her recovery and that she will return to her normal self in time. Her husband in contrast takes a more cynical view of her prognosis and seems resigned to her remaining in her current state. He refers unlovingly to her as ‘a cabbage’.

Martin cleverly makes his way into the Bates’ home claiming to know Pattie and that once had been her fiancé. Whilst there is some doubting by the Bates of his existence in their daughter’s life they accept his offer of care and the trouble soon begins. Having gained their confidence through his nicer than nice approach, left alone he rapes her. It makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The performance demanded attention throughout and the concluding scene made you leave thinking just how that ending came about. The clues to that were hidden earlier in the dialogue.

Fergus Leatham plays the role of Martin with assurance. He leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable in his presence and his asides to the audience reinforce the feeling he is playing the role of a very unpleasant man.

Paul Clayton portrays the bullish Mr Bates well and Stephanie Beattie is superb as the downtrodden Mrs Bates. Olivia Beardsley has the difficult task of playing Pattie. She maintains a believable brain injured patient throughout the play. Her jerky and involuntary writhing movements were expertly acted.

The audience on our review night appeared to thoroughly enjoy their night at the theatre. At the end of the performance there was an enthusiastic applause which continued for some time until the cast returned for a second curtain call. It was a four star performance by a talented cast and whilst recommended it is a show for those with a strong disposition.

 

Production photography by lhphotoshots

 

Brimstone and Treacle

plays at the Hope Theatre

until May 20th

CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS 

 

 

 

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