Drama school theatre and The Crucible are words that fill me with fear. Throw in the fact that it’s at half ten in the morning and the combination should have spelt disaster. Fortunately, Close Up Theatre’s production of The Crucible is a powerful, compelling version of the play that managed to make me forget those days spent reading Arthur Miller’s play in a stuffy classroom. The Crucible is a powerhouse of a play that lends itself well to reinterpretation and remains all too relevant for any generation. Based on the Salem witch trials of 1692, The Crucible was Miller’s not-so-subtle allegory for McCarthyism; as a play that explores mass hysteria and exposes the justice system, it still feels fresh and relevant – its weighty message is carried well by this young cast.
To walk into a theatre and immediately be declared a ‘witch’ is an unnerving experience for anyone. The atmosphere of infectious gossip is set up by the cast who stand amongst the audience, pointing and whispering ‘witch’ at us, whilst an eerie blue glow settles upon the space. This is a very clever set-up that put me on the edge of my seat. It’s a shame this kind of innovation isn’t kept up during the performance itself, which remains a conventional version of the play with classic costuming and bare staging. As a period piece it attempts to capture the intensity of Miller’s play rather than reinvent it.
The dodgy American accents are really dreadful and impossible to ignore. The stage becomes a melting pot of voices and the cast sound as though they’ve come from every corner of America. There are too many moments of slipping back into English with some Irish intonations thrown in there too. A few of the casts’ accents reminded me of Top Cat and it took me at least fifteen minutes to get over this.
The accents are forgivable though because the acting is very good and the riveting script and compelling drama of the play makes the accents easy to block out. The leads are excellent and Charlie Coombs gives a particularly strong, impassioned performance as John Proctor. He perfectly captures Proctor’s sense of inner torment and acts as an admirable figure amongst the insanity of Salem. Beatrice Lawrence is also sympathetic as his wife and their fractured relationship is well displayed by the pair. By the end of the play you really do care about the characters, which is testament to the strength of their acting.
It’s an intense two and a half hours though, and they could have done with cutting down some of the longer sections of Miller’s script. Still, staging it in full is a brave decision. Once you get over the questionable accents, there’s some first-rate acting here and it’s no surprise that Close Up Theatre are a sell-out theatre group. For all its flaws, this is an impassioned piece that packs the punch Miller’s script is going for. It will certainly make you think twice about telling a little white lie in the future.