Director Lucy Hughes makes the bold claim in her director’s note for The Crucible that her cast is made up of ‘some of the most hardworking and talented untrained actors in the country’. This cast, comprised of Southampton students and graduates, performed above and beyond Hughes’ claim, and made Broken Arrow’s debut production a phenomenon that is not to be missed, totally raising the bar for what we can expect from local amateur productions.
The story of the Salem witch trials is told through an ensemble of gripping performances, and it is a credit to Hughes, as well as her cast that the intense atmosphere of the play was kept impressively consistent for the duration of the performance.
The play opens with a powerful additional scene, devised by Hughes, that shows the young girls of the village and Tituba, a slave and suspected practitioner of witchcraft, dancing in the woods, the events that later cause the village community to be shattered by rumour and manipulation. While some directorial decisions of this scene were questionable (actresses dancing in the aisles seemed an immature move from a company trying to break through from student to professional theatre), the choice to show these events was worth the risk, as it throws the audience into a gripping and eerie atmosphere that set the tone for the rest of the story.
This moves smoothly into the first of Miller’s scripted scenes, with a rhythmic stamping keeping the pace up through what would have been an otherwise lengthy scene change – small but intelligent, effective decisions like this are what set The Crucible apart from other amateur productions and make the performance as a whole so impressive.
A standout performance from this moment that was carried right through the play was Jeremy McCabe’s portrayal of Reverend Parris. McCabe shows total discipline and control of his performance throughout the show, and every movement he makes, from striding across the stage to a barely noticeable twitch of the jaw, was entirely justified, leading to a commendable and complex portrayal of the villainous Reverend.
He was joined on stage in this initial act by Anita Thomson as his niece, Abigail Williams. Thomson’s portrayal of the many sides of Abigail’s manipulative character was skilful, and she masters the challenging role convincingly, despite brief moments in her physical performance that felt self-indulgent and unnatural. However, when required to be the centre of the action, Thomson delivers every time – scenes in which she feigned satanic possession showcased her outstanding ability to totally immerse herself in a role.
The tragic hero of the story, John Proctor (Alexander Curtis) and his wife, Elizabeth (Sarah Divall) are perfectly cast, and their on-stage chemistry is what makes their tragedy so compelling to watch. Curtis shows a confident authority and is a hugely enjoyable leading presence on stage, as well as mastering the delivery of some of Miller’s more ‘poetic’ dialogue, – “Now the crazy little children are jangling the keys of the kingdom,” – with great precision and sensitivity. Every emotion portrayed was unquestionably convincing, the highlight being the final moments of the second act in which Elizabeth Proctor is accused and chained up. Curtis’ raw anger followed by a sickeningly well-executed sad stillness made this the most powerful scene of the performance, and a large number of the audience were stunned into silent tears. Divall gave a convincing performance without falter or any shadow of pretence, and was equally as watchable as Curtis – she is unquestionably a beacon of talent, and fully deserving of her role.
It would be impossible to praise this pair without mentioning the remarkable performance given by Sally White as their housemaid, Mary Warren. White gives a refreshing portrayal of Mary’s innocence among the cruelty of the adult characters, and commits to her emotional scenes with no inhibition, spending the majority of her stage time sobbing. Her ability to show the conflict in Mary’s faith is a vital component to the success of the play, and the moment when she is accused by Abigail in court – “Oh Lord, save me now!” – is genuinely gut-wrenching as we realise her fate.
Other commendable performances were given by James Forster as Reverend Hale, who commands the stage and can hold a tense pause with absolute skill; Leodora Darlington as Tituba, mastering the tricky Barbados accent with ease; Joe Curran as stern Judge Hathorne, chillingly cruel, and Alastair Hardie as Francis Nurse, giving a strong physical and vocal portrayal of an elderly man despite his own youth, and unfortunately putting his senior counterpart, Peter Ward (playing the equally elderly Giles Corey) to shame.
The production as a whole was well within the realm of professional standards, every moment smooth and well-rehearsed, and Hughes has obviously had a clear vision of what she wants to achieve with The Crucible from the start. The thunderous applause and standing ovation can only be a sign of great things to come from Broken Arrow Productions.
10/10 – Broken Arrow’s debut is moving, powerful, and without fault.