Miller’s The Crucible is widely considered a classic work of theatre. Abergavenny Theatre Group’s production, under the direction of Phil Greenwood, was solidly acted, but perhaps lacked originality in its production value. The Crucible is a universally relevant play, and the setting of Salem is almost extraneous to the more human themes of betrayal, suspicion and group mentality. It might have been nice to have seen the minimalism hinted at in the sparse sets taken all the way. The production benefited from not being overwhelmed with complicated staging or costumes, however, a more modern setting might have allowed the story and actors to really shine.
By far the best performance of the night came from Mari-Anne Gibson as Goody Proctor – her stoicism in the face of impending tragedy was all the more affecting for its subtlety. Her performance was the backbone of the show. Gibson’s “real life” husband Tom played the show’s “usual” protagonist John Proctor, yet the pair truly came across as coprotagonists and equals, which felt refreshing, and helped us to root for the characters throughout. Also worthy of note was Rebecca Townley as Mary Warren. It’s sometimes quite difficult to portray characters like Warren without seeming “pathetic”, but Townley managed to find a vulnerability which made Mary sympathetic, even when she succumbed to the hysteria engulfing the town.
Jodi Smith was a thoroughly unlikeable Abigail, and very well supported by her teenage cronies. Abigail is not the only “villain” in the play – there is much to be said for how the authority figures help perpetrate the accusations and abuse their power (ultimately taking lives).
It’s also important to remember that the time in which Miller sets The Crucible was very difficult for women – all of the women in the play are either mothers, servants, or children. In order to (literally) survive, the women of The Crucible have to convince the men in power around them that they are innocent, clueless and god-fearing, or else be branded a godless devil-worshipper. On this note, it was uncomfortable to see Tituba the slave woman being presented almost as comic relief, given that her ethnicity would certainly would have contributed to the othering and discrimination of the Salem “witches”, although Leila Gatrad gave a good performance otherwise. Shane Bassett as the pompous-but-decent Rev’d Hale was another standout, and there was worthy support from the rest of the cast.
There were a few stumbles when it came to lines, and some of the cast could have done with “playing up” or “pulling back” accordingly – when every line is shouted or emotionally fraught, it takes the impact away from moments where that are supposed to be emotionally fraught. However, the play is no mean feat to produce, and overall this was a solid and enjoyable performance where it counted, and did credit to the source material. In light of the theatre’s current funding struggles, it was disheartening to see the auditorium with empty seats. The fact that the theatre community in this town is striving to put on quality productions as usual in the face of the cuts should be applauded, and one would hope that the town doesn’t take it for granted.