Friday, 22 June 2018
The Crucible - Storyhouse Theatre, Chester
A theatre experience does not begin when the house lights go down. One could argue that the house lights need not necessarily go down in any case but for the purposes of this review that’s a totally irrelevant point. I'd argue that the theatrical experience for an audience member begins at least on the street outside. I mention this because it’s my first time at the Storyhouse in Chester and that the element of excitement of checking out a new venue imparts a particular edge onto the actual production I’ve come to review.
Walking towards the entrance my first thought was “crikey, this place is big!” On entering the Storyhouse my next thought was “crikey, this place is big!” Substitute whatever words your imagination allows in place of crikey. I then saw books (which are lendable) and a decent sized tapas restaurant/bar/coffee shop before you even get near the Theatre space. It was all pretty busy too although of course you might expect this on press night for Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
The Crucible, first performed in New York in 1953 is a tale of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 with modern day (at the very least to a fifties audience) parallels which reflect the paranoia of the McCarthy era and the tactics used by the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities to root out communist sympathies within American society. These are tactics which are echoed by Deputy Governor Danforth in the play. Miller himself was called before the committee and by refusing to name his known liberal associates risked being found in contempt of the committee and therefore Congress. It’s this parallel with Millers own gallant experience with authority which leads to John Procter being led to the gallows after pleading to restore his name. This similar theme of maintaining a mans good name runs throughout Millers other work too including Eddie in a View From a Bridge where an identical plea is made. It’s beautiful writing and delivered with heart and truthfulness by Matthew Flynn playing Procter, making one sit up and listen. It’s truly fine acting from Flynn.
From the ensemble, one sees a performance style which lends a distinctly Shakespearean tone to the language of the play and is an impressive artistic direction taken by the company. This results in some remarkable performances by several of the lead actors.
Set in thrust with a range of door options in a wall under the proscenium it isn’t a complicated set but well thought out even if the blocking doesn’t quite compliment as well as it might do. There’s money been put into this production and a fine balance has been found between design and company.
Remarkably you can hardly realise it’s part of a rep season. It allows the writing and performance to take its place as a focal point for the production and this is one of several fine decisions for this play. The challenges of casting and designing for a rep season have been met well.
One regrettable decision was the use of regional accents. Here, a cliché is maintained that the “uneducated” small folk sport regional northern accents whilst the educated and powerful maintain neutral or more prestigious accents which re-enforces an unfortunate myth which must be objected to. Perhaps one day a production of the Crucible can be done in authentic Massachusetts accents. One can dream…
The ambition of the Storyhouse is admirable. The artistic team have presented an ambitious production of the Crucible for their summer repertoire working with a well formed ensemble yet allowing some first rate performances to shine through here. As the team learn more about the capabilities of the venue in the coming years I’m expecting further amazing work to come through
Reviewer - Karl Barnsley
on - 21/6/18