Nov 2, 2009

Review: The Crucible

I read with some interest the Brisbane Times' review of the Queensland Theatre Company's production of The Crucible. Katherine Feeney didn't like the production at all; and of course, that's her prerogative as a reviewer.

I was intrigued because I popped down to the Playhouse at QPAC on Friday night to see The Crucible - and I really enjoyed the production. Which I guess is my prerogative as a reviewer.

The Crucible is second only to Death of a Salesman as Arthur Miller's most well-known and most often performed play. The story of the 1692 Salem witch hunts is generally seen as an allegory to the persecution of Communists in 1950s America; but really that's too simple a construct. Miller's work is a dissection of oppression and fanatacism in general, and how in real life, Goliath often beats David. It is reintepreted for each generation; lines such as Judge Danforth's "you are either with us or against us" resonate of George W. Bush as much as they do Joseph McCarthy.

QTC director Michael Gow wisely avoids recreating the Puritan Pilgrim look of 1692. Here, the 19 actors wear lumber jackets, cardigans, and 1950s-style three-piece suits. They perform on a raw wooden stage with a few pieces of furniture, in front of a looming dark forest of tall tree trunks. These are frontier people, but it does not follow that their minds are simple.

The performances were in general outstanding; particularly Andrew Buchanan as John Proctor, the farmer tortured by his indiscretion with Abigail Williams, who tries to save his wife Elizabeth only to find himself accused of dealing with the Devil. His accent is quite Australian, almost ocker at times, which initially sounds jarring compared to some of the smoother speaking voices (though no one attempts Massachusetts English, wisely). But Buchanan's expression is all Proctor, and he is clearly a sensible man frustrated by the superstition and hysteria around him, but unable to act as he should wish to because of his own failings.

I must admit to not enjoying Francesca Savige as Abigail, the gamine sprite at the centre of the hysteria. But I put much of that down to not really liking Abigail the character. There is little tenderness to her, as she berates her friends, then embraces bewitchment to avoid the consequences of her lies. Savige plays the "whore's vengeance" aspect well enough; I would have liked to have seen a little more teenage realism. After all, Abigail is a teenager in a repressed society that does not acknowledge her burgeoning sexuality. Kathryn Marquet, however is outstanding as the Proctor's maid Mary Warren; James Stewart is an empathetic Reverend Hale; Paul Bishop stammers and stutters as the cowardly Revered Parris; and Robert Coleby simply dominates as Danforth - who remains cool-headed even as he metes out ridiculous justice.

And it's this ridiculousness that provides the production will moments of absurd humour. Some would think it a sin to laugh during a serious play; indeed, the Brisbane Times review cites this as a major failing by director Michael Gow. But for me, the moments of humour were priceless. They were brief snatches of time where for a split-second you could see the characters' think "Am I really doing this? Am I really crying witch? Am I really sentencing good people to death because of the cries of children?" - before being caught up again in the sweeping tide of hysteria. The whole nature of mass persecution is absurd: the idea people will dob in others just to escape punishment themselves - it is the schoolyard writ large, and we show our understanding of it by laughing at it. Hopefully we learn a lesson from it.

The Crucible is three hours long, including interval, but I did not notice the time passing. The production, like any, is not perfect, but remains thoroughly enjoyable. I notice with interest today Brisbane entertainment writer Brett Debritz has also posted about varying reviews of this production. I would highlight his point that nothing beats seeing a show for yourself to find out.


  1. The age of Fairfax theatre reviewer scum in Australia ended with Kippax.

    It's amazing what people will become expert in when they're being paid to write about it.

    What Ms Feeney fails to observe is she's simply just working in the factory for the fat man.

    All in all, theatre is more free than the press.

    Nice obs from the boards GC


  2. I went on Friday night also - and it was polished (agree that production values were spot-on) but it didn't have that "magic" that makes me think about the play for days after. Actually the impact had pretty much faded by this morning - standing around the water cooler swapping weekend stories I struggled to remember where I was on Friday night. And the first thing I remembered was the trees!

    Re the "inappropriate laughter" angle in the BT review, for an audience to be able to sit through some of the weightier, longer plays like this one you need some kind of occasional let-up to be able to keep concentrating (a dummy like me appreciates it, anyway). I thought that the funny bits were deliberate and that we were allowed to laugh but the BT review didn't think so. Not sure what the original intent in the script/with the direction was there.

    I can't quite put my finger on what didn't make it outstanding - the intensity just seemed a bit forced, a bit blunt and needing a bit more nuance...? The dire earnestness of the play didn't quite match the energy of the ensemble? That I was in the front sodding row and spent a lot of time looking up actor's noses? I don't know.

    Lots of characters, lots of dialogue in this one but it's a deserved classic and I'm glad that I've seen it. Especially for the whole pure-of-heart-needing-no-lawyers line. Where do you buy that shirt, I wonder?


  3. CityKat might be best served shelving the Important Critic Hat for a bit and concentrating on the hard hitting issues, like what shapes are best for one to shave one's pubic hair into in order to attract the most members of the opposite sex.

  4. Mz Feeney fails to register on my radar at the best of times.

  5. I only regret I can't check it out for myself, but in spite of that deficiency I am happy to loudly declare you are correct and call Ms Katherine Feeney a poopy-head.

  6. Ow, Ow, Ow and Ouch !!!

    I hope that the barbs being hurled with such gay abandon don't injure Ms F too deeply (by the way she's not related to the Fiend in any way is

    If she does read all of these outpourings of outrageous fortune she may feel the need to emigrate to somewhere quiet (Antarctica springs to mind
    The Ancient Man

  7. Well, I say if Ms Feeney said something different from the rest of this obviously open-minded group of peops I say burn her as a witch! She must be a witch!

  8. Has Goody Feeney had relations with the devil? What is the best way to attract the attention of Lucifer? Is he is boxers of briefs kinda guy? Can you trust the Father of Lies ot call you after your one midnight stand?
    Find out in her next column.

  9. Well, I say if Ms Feeney can't take it, she shouldn't give it! Well done, Girl Clumsy. I like your style.