Image courtesy of Philippa Oliver.
The Crucible at Bedlam Theatre
In honour of Arthur Miller’s 100th birthday, the Bedlam Theatre toasts the playwright this week in showcasing one of his classics, The Crucible. Set in 1692 colonial Massachusetts, the play is based on the true events of the notorious Salem witch trials where numbers of accused witches and warlocks were tried and executed for the crime of witchcraft. The Crucible reimagines this historic tragedy in a small village where a group of young girls, lead by the wily Abigail Williams, spark a suspicion of witchcraft that quickly spreads through the village like wildfire. It is a study of the human condition that examines the semi-biographical lives of the God-fearing villagers and the lies, suspicion, and personal hatreds that ultimately lead to their demise.
Bedlam Theatre’s production had its strengths and its weaknesses. The theatre was entirely modified for the performance atmosphere; a custom-built wooden structure encased both the stage and audience to give the intimate yet austere feel of an authentic colonial homestead. While this unique staging arrangement accommodated far more audience members, it sacrificed the practicality of inclined seating, making anything waist-down on stage impossible to see from the second row back. This proved to be quite the imaginative exercise for the audience’s shorter members.
Because of the slightly cramped conditions, the actors were spatially challenged. This, in combination with the large cast demanded by Miller’s original script, made for a claustrophobic stage. The actors managed, however, this hectic atmosphere may have been a contributing factor in some other production shortfalls. The colonial-American accents seemed to be a struggle for some, making the script – already challenging with its archaisms – hard to follow. Reverend Parris appeared to lose his voice during the performance, unfortunate in that it could not be helped but disappointing for the audience nonetheless. Moreover, a few misspoken parts of the script here and there led to a generally patchy performance.
Bedlam’s rendering of the original focused more on the characters of John Proctor and his wife, Elizabeth, rather than on Abigail Williams. This, a change from previous productions, alters the play’s moral focus in a positive way, but also showcases Douglas Clark and Alice Markey’s strong portrayal of the Proctors. The final scene is particularly powerful, allowing the emotional weight of the performance to linger at its close only to be interrupted by the cheap drumroll that crops up dramatically throughout the play.
Overall, the performance is a nice gesture to Miller’s continuing legacy 100 years on from his birth. However, for all its ambition, it falls somewhat short. Worth seeing at least for its enthusiasm – and a post-play discussion – the audience is recommended to arrive early for a front row seat.