Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Crucible, Canberra Rep

It's been a while since I've unashamedly loved a show at Rep as much as I've loved this one. So the tradition applies - go buy your tickets now, then come back at your leisure and read this. This is a production that you will hate yourself for missing. So don't miss it. Book now.

And now that you've booked, let's talk about the show. Arthur Miller's play is, of course, a recognised classic and a regular school text, but it's also a living theatrical piece that needs skilled performers and tight direction. In this production, it gets it.

Michael Sparks' set covers the wide Theatre 3 stage with trees made of rope, indicating the puritan's fear of the natural world where, as the play begins, young girls have been cavorting in the woods, and also the tangled webs that have been weaved by old rivalries between the people of Salem. A central clearing is the main playing area, with all scenes represented by various arrangements of four white benches. This stark design focusses the play marvelously on the story and the acting - it takes a lotta work to look this simple. Kelly McGannon's lighting compliments this well - giving the woods a darkly shadowy presence while giving the downstage area the warmth of a home or the coldness of a courtroom.

Populating the scene is a cast of extraordinary depth. Leading the way is Duncan Ley. I've said previously he's one of Canberra's finest actors. And now that he's leaving Canberra (this is his farewell performance on the Canberra stage), he's leaving with a performance that will stick in the mind for quite a while. His Proctor starts cynical, smart-alecky, moody and blunt. But we start to see different sides to him - a man with passions, affection for his wife, longings for the sensual temptation of Abigail, and riven with guilt by his actions - and trying desperately to do the right thing in the face of horrendous circumstances. Lexi Sekuless matches him, showing a gentle, kind woman who's renegotiating second-by-second how far she can forgive her husband's transgressions and balance the love she has and the betrayal she feels. You never doubt, though, the love and affection that sits inside her. Zoe Priest's Abigail Williams is a bloody marvel. She's a ruthless force of nature - one of her early lines talks about seeing her parent's heads bashed in by Indians, and you get the feeling she's determined that next time, she'll be the one holding the hammer. Intense, driven, vengeful, mercurial and just plain dangerous, it's a performance that will long stick in the memory.

Elsewhere in the cast, Duncan Driver applies his formidable intellect to the role of the overly-arrogant Hale - as the scales fall from his eyes and he begins to see how deluded he has been, it is a marvel to watch. David Bennett's Giles Corey has some of the moments of humour of the show and makes them count, managing to be both genial and massively argumentative at the same time. Yanina Clifton's Mary Warren has a great mix of meek submission and bravery followed by complete mental disintegration. Mark Bunnett's Danforth is thoroughly, despicably devoted to his mistaken sense of duty, and to sticking to the bureaucratic technicalities of law rather than letting any slivers of humanity slide through. Adam Salter's Reverend Parris, too, delivers foolish pride and arrogance followed by desperation as he realises how wrong he has been and how hard the backlash to his actions will be. Elaine Noon's pitiless Ann Putnam is convincingly, painfully bitter from her losses, and Paul Jackson's Thomas Putnam has a wonderfully awful rich, entitled air as he takes advantage of the awful situation.

Jordan Best co-ordinates this all with precision - her blocking of the group of girls in particular makes them a solid, terrifying unit falling in lockstep behind Abigail - but there's great understanding of space, of where the connections between characters should register and where they will fail. She ensures that we're passionately engaged in this life and death struggle for characters to retain their integrity and honour in awful circumstances.

I cannot speak highly enough of this production. It's strong, impressive work that should be seen, contemplated and hailed.

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