Lyndsey Turner's version of Arthur Millers 'The Crucible' is an aesthetically pleasing, tension filled witch hunt as relevant in 2023 as it was when it was first told in 1953.
NT Live gifts us with another engaging production from across the pond at the Olivier stage at the National Theatre.
Fear, power dynamics, accusations run rampant in this contemporary new staging, designed by Tony Award-winner Es Devlin.
Audiences are greeted by much talked about rain-fall curtain, surrounding the stage.
The show begins with an introduction to the story by the girls who are at the centre of it. Dressed in frocks of varying pink (by costume designer Catherine Fay), that don't indicate the exact era the show is set in, they speak with passion and a wariness that lets us know the seriousness of the piece we're about to witness. They also speak in an array of accents which also keeps us guessing as to the exact setting of the show.
We know it's set in Massachusetts. Perhaps the varying accents are to highlight that this story could take place anywhere and any time.
Erin Doherty plays the leader of the girls, Abigail Williams. Doherty's physicality shows a gawky and awkward young girl. Younger than the actor playing her, which is slightly highlighted by Doherty's physical choices. Doherty comes roaring onto the stage with a fierce intensity that never lets up. This doesn't leave a whole lot of space for her to change throughout the show as intensity is met with intensity. But Doherty leaves it all on the stage and it is terrifying to watch her hold over the girls tighten to the detriment of the other women in the town.
Brendan Cowell is the protagonist or perhaps equal parts antagonist, John Proctor. Cowell does a New Jersey accent which sticks out like a sore thumb. He is also dressed in relatively contemporary clothes, that does make him stand apart from the other members of the town.
His physicality choices at first seemed to be a reflection of Abigail's, but as the show progressed, there wasn't a clear argument for this.
Cowell does a good job as Proctor. Taking the audience on a journey from the reveal of him taking advantage of Abigail and the uncomfortable power dynamic between them, to a man who can't own up to his infidelity, ending with a man who sticks by his guns and reveals his follies despite the repercussions he will face, so he can stand up for what is right.
The absolute standout in the cast is the incredible Eileen Walsh as Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John who bears the brunt of Abigail's tantrum. Walsh gifts us with an incredibly complex, strong, hurt, nervous, stoic Goody Proctor. This incredibly balanced performance was a joy to watch, and had us absolutely rooting for her.
Fisayo Akinade was a conflicted Reverend John Hale, whose struggle with the truth and finding the strength to do what is right despite his dedication to the church and the collective voices of the court, was a conduit for the audience.
As Deputy Governor Danforth, Matthew Marsh came in strong and decided, but stayed the same note for the majority of the play.
Nick Fletcher as Reverence Samuel Parris gave us a man who was very concerned with number 1 and couldn't find the need to find value in the truth if it negatively affected him.
Other standouts were Karl Johnson as Giles Corey and Rachelle Diedericks as Mary Warren who showed us how to, with the former, stay true and resolute in your beliefs despite the implications and for the later, the struggle of what can happen to those who try to tell the truth and having few believe you.
Throughout the show, the beautiful staging was highlighted further with vignettes of the action that was being talked about at the front of the stage. The rain fall curtain was used a couple of times throughout the show to a haunting effect as was the foreboding singing by the girls.
Miller's play has stood the test of time for good reason and doesn't need bells and whistles to get to the root of the story. This production allows the hysteria that follows the Salem witch trials to create so much tension that the reveal of the amount of women murdered due to the accusations of an abused teenage girl is still a shock.
Audiences should see this production of 'The Crucible', not just for the gorgeous production, with lighting done beautifully by Tim Lutkin, but as a reminder of what happens when fear-mongering and power play combines.
No one is safe and the most dangerous people can be those who have previously been overlooked due to their young age.
IN CINEMAS FROM 4 March 2023 FOR A STRICTLY LIMITED TIME
Tickets on sale now - Find participating cinemas at ntlive.com
Running time: approx. 170 minutes (with an interval)
Participating VIC Cinemas:
VIC Cinema Nova Palace Brighton Bay Palace Balwyn Palace Como Sun Theatre, Yarraville Lido Cinemas Classic Cinemas Cameo Cinemas
Regent Cinemas, Ballarat Peninsula Cinemas Rosebud
Photos: Johan Persson