David Wenham headlines this production of The Crucible, and predictably garners widespread attention and brings good numbers into the theatre. He is adequate in the role of John Proctor, but is subsumed by the size of the stage and hall, and also by some of the more “theatrical” in the cast. Wenham is perhaps more suited for a more naturalistic setting, and on filmic close ups, but this staging of an outlandish tale in a large auditorium seems not to be the best showcase of his talents.
There are efforts in the set and lighting design to visually shrink the stage into small rooms, but while effective in that regard, the actors performances sometimes become overly subtle for the size of this production’s audiences. Sections seem to drag on while characters have intimate exchanges that are unable to reach out beyond the first few rows. The pivotal scene towards the end of the play where the Proctors discuss their mortality lacks the dramatics and gravity necessary at such a crucial point of the tale.
Accordingly, it is the more vivid performances that shine. Brian Lipson plays Judge Thomas Danforth, and Sarah Ogden, the Proctors’ maid Mary Warren stand out and are thoroughly engaging and entertaining. In comparison, it becomes clear that they possess a style that is necessary for the language of the writing, and also for the space in which this production takes place. None of the actors are weak, but this production seem to demand a level of heightened drama that eludes many of today’s performers.
Interestingly, Arthur Miller’s text remains relevant. Its warnings of the power ascribed to the “loud minority” in our societies resonate, especially within the context of religious extremism. It also discusses the dangerous culture of “wowserism” and that too, applies easily to contemporary society. An interesting coincidence occurs with a line from Danforth, “But witchcraft is ipso facto, on its face and by its nature, an invisible crime, is it not?”, drawing an irresistible parallel to an Australian political leader’s use of the same term “invisible” last week to describe (and diminish) carbon emissions in the debate about climate change. Great plays may age, but they no doubt hold great lessons for any generation, and it is for the theatre makers to bring forth these learnings.