The Crucible

Thu 22nd – Sat 24th November 2012

reviews

Amy Peters

at 09:57 on 25th Nov 2012

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Well now, that was intense. In the most wonderful way.

Now, I feel it my duty to mention that this play inhabits a dark little place close to my heart. Since my first encounter with it as a bookish (and somewhat pretentious!) child, I have revisited it at various stages in my life and have always been in awe of it as a piece of literature. I was unsure if this initial bias would lend me to love this particular production simply because I am so in awe of the story, or, by contrast, cause me to be harshly critical of it. During the performance, I was inclined to lean towards the latter, which just goes to show that the 4 stars at the start of this review were well and truly earned. This was a truly successful adaptation of a long and emotionally intense play by a team of intimidatingly talented actors.

What first struck me about this production was both its size and general air of professionalism, levels of which I had not before experienced in Durham; there were more set changes than any sane director would ask for, but the whole palaver was pulled off successfully and smoothly. In large venues such as the Caedmon Hall there can often be a stricter divide between audience and cast than is the case with more intimate settings. In this production, this was never once an issue. The opening scene saw actors swirling and screeching throughout the whole hall, successfully filling every available space with manic laughter and demonic cries. That iconic first scene was intense, powerful, terrifying and hinted deliciously at what was to come. Little details, such as autumn leaves strewn about the entire venue, and the ominous drum-beat tempting the audience into the hall all added to the feel of entering another world. A sinister, suspicious 17th century world where religious zealots and vengeful girls hold court.

For me, there were two very distinct halves to this play in terms of the quality of acting. When the curtain drew up after the interval, the cast as a whole came completely into their own. This play is a long one, and one that is utterly riddled with lengthy speeches and huge chunks of uninterrupted dialogue. Where perhaps the confidence and conviction to deliver these really challenging pieces effectively was somewhat lacking in the first half of this production, the second was completely categorised by its incredible display of ability in this regard. This transition was perfectly personified by Will Rhodes’ portrayal of the brooding John Proctor; where his first act was good, his second was excellent, and there was a tangible sense of his growing into this character as the play progressed.

The cast as a whole was incredibly impressive, both as individual actors and, most notably, by working so perfectly in harmony with each other. Timings were often perfect; the scene in which John denounces Abigail as a whore charged the hall with an atmosphere that was electric. There were so many impressive performances tonight, but the penultimate scene between Elizabeth (Sophie Harrop) and Rhodes’ Proctor was so infused with emotion that it deserves a mention here.

In a nutshell, this was probably the best acting I have seen from an entire cast in my time here at Durham, and if you’re after an evening where you’re transported to a terrifying world where the whims of a vengeful young girl can destroy the lives of an entire village, then this is the production for you. Expect to be taken to some pretty emotionally dark places, and come away in awe of the talent that this university can boast.

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