The Crucible – 3 stars

Nice Swan Theatre Company, Newcastle.

After working on many productions as assistant director, Jane Hutchinson gets to take the reins with this classic Arthur Miller play, and puts a Nice Swan stamp on it from the very beginning.

An eerie opening gives way to a captivating contemporary dance sequence, showing the witches cavorting in the forest around a cauldron, disrobing and apparently flying. Choreography is stylish and the execution of it slick and vibrant. The music used for this section is dramatic and entrancing, and it would have been nice if it, or something similar, had been used to cover the scene changes throughout, which simply happened in silent darkness and took a bit longer than anyone would have liked.

Indeed, things taking too long is my main bugbear with this otherwise very good production. Dialogue needed to be pacier and cues needed to be picked up much, much quicker. There were moments when proceedings seemed to grind to a halt.

On the whole, though, the ensemble cast held the audience’s attention, and there were large sections when the play really sprang to life. One such section being the scene when the girls are left alone for the first time, as they ‘get their story straight’ about their practising of witchcraft. Laura Stoker turns expertly from sweet niece to domineering bully as antagonist Abigail. Rebecca Withers really impresses as Tituba, particularly in the scene where she starts giving up names, calling to mind so clearly those black and white tapes of the McCarthy trials of the 50s, of which the play is a well-known allegory.

Bethany Walker gives a wonderfully dignified performance as Elizabeth Proctor. In the second half, Lee Rosher stands out and excels as Judge Danforth. He commands the stage with a professional-like ease, and holds the ace card of being able to make every word he utters clearly heard by the audience (something which not everyone on the stage seemed able to do.)

It was a real shame that a couple of technical hitches marred an ending which would otherwise have been visually stunning, rounding off a production of which the director and ensemble cast can be suitably proud.

(originally posted 24 February 2012)

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