Venue: Old Adelaide Gaol, 18 Gaol Road, Thebarton
Season: Doors open 7:30pm for 8pm start Thurs to Sat until 30th April 2011
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
Tickets: adult $25/conc $20
Arthur Miller’s play is a dramatisation of the Salem witch trials of 1692-3, focussing mainly on John Proctor but including many others in the town. They are all members of a Puritan community that has been established for 70 years. Miller’s play is, in fact, an allegorical exploration of the McCarthy era and the anti-Communist movement, the witch hunt and trials being known as the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities of the 1950s. Miller himself was accused and called to face them.
Tituba, the slave of the unpopular Rev. Parris, is caught with some of the girls of the town, dancing in the woods, one at least dancing naked. Tituba has also been brewing a potion for them. His daughter, Betty, immediately falls into a coma, and his niece, Abigail Williams, and the other girls, under his questioning, admit to seeing the devil. John Proctor comes to visit and, left alone with Abigail, she tries to seduce him and it is revealed that she was the Proctor’s maid, but was fired seven months earlier when his wife, Elizabeth, discovered their affair.
As in the European Inquisitions, those accused are pressured into confessing, facing death if they do not and, once they have confessed, they are pressured to name others who are also witches. The list of the accused grows rapidly and we discover some ulterior motives, including Abigail wanting Elizabeth out of the way in the hope of getting John as her husband, and others looking to take the lands of the accused. This latter was actually reported as happening in reality, along with supporters of Parris accusing those that did not support him, and the poorer members of the community accusing those that were well off. Lies, innuendo, superstition, fear, ignorance, abuse of power, envy, lust and arrogance are all behind the happenings in Salem.
Kyle Kaczmarczyk offers a strikingly powerful performance as John Proctor. His very believable characterisation is consistent and captivating. Imogen Nicholas gives us a strong willed and devious Abigail Williams and there are some sparks flying whenever the two are together. Dianne k Lang’s Elizabeth Proctor is a sensitive portrayal of a woman loyal to her husband, in spite of his infidelities.
Closely involved with the Proctors is Rev. John Hale, a self proclaimed expert in witchcraft, but who begins to see less of the occult and more of human failings driving the trials. Matthew Russell does a wonderful job of presenting us with a man who progressively questions his faith and beliefs and he brings a subtlety to those changes in Hale.
Lindsay Dunn gives us every reason to dislike Reverend Parris in a fine performance that brings out the self-importance that overrides his religious beliefs, showing his pride and arrogance. Mercy Lewis is one of the ringleaders in the group of girls and the servant of the Putnams. She and Abigail steal money from Rev. Parris and disappear together. Karen Burns presents us with a very crafty and strong willed girl in another of the fine performances in this production.
The Act III doesn’t quite come together, mainly due to John Leigh Gray’s inconsistency in trying to maintain a character in the role of Judge Danforth. This is due to his reading his script, made even more distracting as he keeps his finger on it so that he does not lose his place. As he is not making constant eye contact and interacting fully with the others, the intensity of the trial is not what it could be.
Ann and Thomas Putnam are a villainous couple who hope to gain the lands of Giles Corey and they accuse his wife and Rebecca Nurse for their own ends. Tracey Korsten and Ben Todd play the Putnams with suitable unpleasantness. Philip Lineton tends to be rather more caricature than character as Giles Corey but Lindy LeCornu gives Rebecca Nurse an appropriately strong characterisation.
Rachel Burke plays Mary Warren, the Proctor’s new maid who attempts to tell the truth, but is drawn back into their conspiracy by the other girls. Burke goes through a range of emotions in a very believable performance.
In the role of Tituba is a newcomer to theatre and a talent to watch out for. Thulisa Mrwebi gives a moving portrayal of the slave, brought back from Barbados by Rev. Parris and caught up in things that she does not understand. I suspect that we will hear much more from her in the future.
There were more good performances offered by others in the cast and some frighteningly intense ensemble moments from those playing the girls that added to the convincing production.
Director, Josh Penley, has used the unusual space and his cast well in creating a powerful piece of theatre but, sadly, there are only a few performances. It deserves more.
The venue for this production, the Old Adelaide Gaol, enhances the production by adding its own oppressive and atmospheric influences, further heightened by some excellent lighting from Stephen Saba, and Helen Hill’s costuming is effective. Normally I would have urged you strongly to see this production, but it was completely sold out before it opened.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.