I’ve made a general rule for myself, that if I don’t love something I’ll slip out during the interval. Fortunately, Heather McNeill’s direction and Geo Niven’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible had me coming back for more and had me hanging on the edge of my seat.
As this was my first SUDS show, I personally wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the rave reviews of previous performances I had read dictated that directorial and performance standards were high — and this show was no exception.
A quiet, Puritan, Salem town experiences uproar when the local reverend’s 10-year-old daughter Betty Parris is found in a comatose state after dancing in the forest with some local girls, including the Parris’ slave Tituba, who allegedly conjures the devil.
Boston judges are sent in to investigate the small town, and soon almost everyone is being accused of witchcraft, including Elizabeth Proctor whose husband, local farmer John Proctor, had an affair with the dancing ringleader and local temptress Abigail Williams when she worked in their home.
When the lights went down I hadn’t opened my programme so couldn’t quite tell who was who on paper. The first character to grace the stage was Reverend Parris and within less than five minutes I was itching to find out the actor whose manic, crazed eyes and power-hungry facial expressions held my undivided attention.
Calum Swan was unrecognisable from his programme picture and an impeccable casting choice for the role of the stiff reverend.
Daniel Rooney was intimidating as Reverend Hale, (a devout Christian with a hatred of witchcraft) especially when making John Proctor recite the ten commandments and his chilling ‘you said that one twice, sir’.
Abby Ferguson was equally phenomenal in her portrayal of the beautiful and cunning Abigail Williams. As the adulteress to John Proctor’s character, she and Rowan MacAskill (John Proctor) had sizzling on-stage chemistry and the mixed feelings of hate and lust were real.
I also must praise a different kind of chemistry between Rowan MacAskill and Tessa Richards as Elizabeth Proctor, who had extremely tender moments within the play. The believability of the couple’s willingness to put each other on the line to save the other was convincingly heart-rendering.
The hair, make-up, props and frail postures of Sophie Lane and Andrew Hart’s charterers Rebecca and Francis Nurse and also Cameron Watson as Giles Corey were particularly impressive in portraying them as older characters within the Salem community.
Gillian Agnew was brilliant as the frightened, babbling Mary Warren as was Grace Brammer as Abigail William’s influential friend Mercy Lewis.
Duncan Lawrie (Judge Danforth) and Calum Moore (Judge Hawthrone) were great as the judicial double act — one determined for the trial to be over to elevate his own persona (Hawthorne) and the other scrupulous in his line of duty (Danforth). Johnny Anderson was equally authoritative in his role of Ezekiel Cheever, a man from Salem turned clerk of court who chooses his judicial duty over his relationships with the townsfolk.
Jonathan Wilson was also fantastic as the conniving Thomas Putham who uses the witch-trials to get one-up on his fellow land-owners.
There was an interesting spin on the character Tituba, with making her an Irish slave instead of being from Barbados in the original play. But Ainé Taylor magnificently made the part her own. Amy Costello conveyed the innocence of Reverend Parris’ ten-year-old daughter, who falls victim to the supernatural happenings after just trying to fit in with Abigail and her friends.
Overall this was an impeccably cast performance, with a terrific amount of on-screen chemistry and highly commendable costumes and make-up. Heather McNeill and Geo Niven (with stage direction by Laura Niven) are a dream team. Heather mentioned before the performance began that the show was dedicated to her late grandmother, all I can say is that I’m sure she’d be proud of the production you put on.