In the face of something terrible,
we can either laugh or cry. For the audience watching John Dove’s new
production of Arthur Miller’s
arguably, it’s the pinnacle in the Royal Lyceum’s celebratory 50th anniversary season – with a cast of 19 on stage to prove it.
That this is a big show, though, there’s no doubt; arguably, it’s the pinnacle in the Royal Lyceum’s celebratory 50th anniversary season – with a cast of 19 on stage to prove it. Yet, while most scenes require Dove to choreograph no more than half-a-dozen characters at a time, he repeatedly acts like some Renaissance painter, placing his cast in relatively static poses within Michael Taylor’s bare-boned set. While this tableaux approach helps focus our attention on Miller’s words, that carries its own risk. It’s a slight exaggeration to say that the cast offer more American accents than there were British colonies in the Americas during the times the play is set, but it’s sufficiently true to nevertheless prove distracting.
The casting is also somewhat unbalanced; although something of an ensemble piece, the role of “good man” John Proctor nevertheless does require a level of charisma and inner strength that Philip Cairns just seems to lack. In scene after scene, he is overshadowed by either the quiet dignity of Irene Allan as his wife Elizabeth, or the suppressed fury of Maghan Tyler as spurned lover Abigail Williams.
Just like Nature, any drama abhors a vacuum, which is why this production’s attention consequently shifts onto, firstly, the excellent Richard Conlon as the Reverend John Hale – the minister from outside town whose evidence-based approach to witchcraft is fascinating for all the wrong reasons. Conlon fully grasps the dramatic opportunities arising from his character’s own belated awakening to the folly of what’s happening as the number of hangings rises – and creates a fuller, rounder human being than might first be expected of the man. Secondly, there’s Ron Donachie as Deputy Governor Danforth; he only appears in the second half, but is a huge presence, both physically and dramatically. It’s difficult not to take your eyes off Donachie as a performer; it’s equally hard not to be horrified by the certainty of Danforth’s statement that “who is not with us is against us”.
There’s little doubt that The Crucible is a play that still has a lot to tell us about ourselves, and how we must constantly guard against fear, anger and the abuse of power by those who find themselves in authority. It’s a shame, however, that the motor of this particular production is, for the most part, barely ticking over.