Loft Theatre, Leamington, until May 18
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
POWER emanates from this production.
Not just the power of Arthur Miller’s scorching drama, but the power of a company living and breathing the intensity of such a demanding enterprise.
Over the years many have had a go, at all kinds of levels, but few can top the courage and achievement we see here. The achievement lies in fielding a cast of more than 20 actors who deliver hardly a wrong note between them. The courage concerns the simplicity of staging – a bed, a table, a couple of chairs – which allows full focus on the brilliance of the dialogue and the stormy eloquence of the stirring confrontations.
The Salem witch trials and their murderous outcome provide enough theatrical red meat in themselves without Miller’s wickedly clever alignment with America’s shameful anti-communist victimisations of the 1950s. For actors and directors alike, the challenges are as tempting as they are enormous.
In this instance, co-directors David Fletcher and Gordon Vallins create an all-pervasive atmosphere from the opening seconds with ominous chanting by the Salem young folk. Then, casually and masterfully, they tighten the grip as the play progresses and the small, superstitious community crumbles into all-out hysteria.
The basic tragedy forming around the central couple is superbly evoked in the performances of Craig Shelton and Elizabeth Morris. His John Proctor is an innocent rustic farmer whose only sins are ploughing on Sundays and a once-only dalliance with a scheming teenage girl. Shelton’s portrayal fixes splendidly on the man’s conscience-torn fragility while Elizabeth Morris depicts how the calm and steadfast loyalty of the wife falls prey to pessimistic dread.
Around this pair are the figures of committed authority, from Mark Crossley’s Rev Samuel Parris, who takes panic and petulance to a riveting new level, to Robert Lowe’s fearsome judge/inquisitor. There is eye-catching work too from Bryan Ferriman as old Giles whose sad and impassioned pleading for true justice is a key issue of the piece.
As the relentless drama unfolds and the young girls’ passions are given full rein, the full-scale irony of the trials once again spells out its parallels with the McCarthy hearings.
And that overall power makes it positively frightening.
A staggering achievement.