Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Salem As It Ever Was

The Crucible, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Saturday March 18 2006.

Despite it not being a million miles away from the Parallax View homestead, this is Dead Kenny's first venture into Shakespeare country, tempted by the joint prospect of watching Arthur Miller's celebrated epic play and a chance to catch the rather fetching star of Fingersmith and Ghost Squad, Elaine Cassidy, in the flesh. Despite it being another bitterly cold day, the pretty riverside location and friendly atmosphere make for a pleasant day, made all the better for a quick pint in the smoke-free environs of The Garrick watching Jonathan Pearce jabber on from Upton Park with the sound down (the staff clearly realised that mute is definitely the way Dead Kenny prefers his JP). It's soon time, however, to move on to The Royal Shakespeare Theatre which is smaller than you might imagine, although the seating is comfortable and your correspondent is able to get a good view of proceedings, along with the rest of the matinee audience, which seems to predominantly feature the elderly and coachloads of hormonal Italian students.

The play is scheduled to be approximately three hours in length (including a 20 minute interval) but the first two acts glide by quickly with Miller's taut plotting ratcheting up the tension from the first few minutes, assisted by excellent ensemble performances and an austere, gothic set-design. Cassidy manages to exude the right level of vulnerability and wilfulness as the manipulative Abigail, but it's essentially a supporting role and the restrictions of period dress hide her considerable headlights under a bushel. The leading role of John Proctor, meanwhile, is played with considerable energy and wit by Iain Glen, an actor clearly gaining gravitas alongside his burgeoning baldpatch, while James (Boney) Laurenson is impressively loathsome as the dastardly Deputy Governor Danforth as proceedings in the final act take some decidedly dark deviations.

If this final act lacks the compelling pull of the preceding two, this is a flaw central to the core material itself rather than the production. Although few could deny being moved by the emotional payoff at the climax, the final build-up to this point seems to Dead Kenny to be overly complex and drawn-out and your correspondent feels the martyrdom shown by the hero strains credibility somewhat. Miller's slightly sanctimonious attitude towards the truth within the play also chafes somewhat on the knowledge that he played fast-and-loose himself with the historical details known about the Salem witch-trials (it's not thought that the witchcraft accusations came from the girls themselves, which gives the play's spin on things a slightly disturbing misogynistic edge). It's nevertheless an important and memorable play, with plenty of relevance to the modern political arena and this production is a fitting tribute to the celebrated playwright who died last year.

The production is now transferring to the West End, opening at The Gielgud Theatre on April 5.


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