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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Crucible at Regents Park Open Air Theatre

The Salem girls

The weather forecast had been 'heavy rainfall' so I was delighted to find the sun still shining when we arrived at Regents Park Open Air Theatre. This production of Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible' relies on light. A long play, it seems surprising that it begins as late at 8 o'clock, but as the interval finished and the trials of the second half began, it became apparent that this production uses the inevitable nightfall to its advantage.

Previously I have seen 'The Boyfriend' and 'Hello Dolly' at Regents Park Theatre, both light witty musicals. This year they are proving their versatility by tackling two rather more sombre plays, 'The Crucible' and 'Macbeth'. Miller's play is, if anything, more effective than the musicals I'd witnessed in its use of the space. The young Salem girls sit surrounding the circular stage almost throughout the show, with haunted blank faces, reacting occasionally to the speech before them. Their silence is sometimes even more poignant than Miller's most dramatic words.

The cast, together capture the dark hysteria wonderfully. John Proctor (Patrick O'Kane) towers above the young Abigail Williams (Emily Taafe), a physical contrast that emphasises the struggle for justice between them. O'Kane's bellowing voice carried across the park, and his gradual desperation is developed very naturally by the actor. For me though it is Philip Cumbus as Reverend John Hale who gives the most compelling performance of the night. The Reverend interacts with most of the other parts in the play and is therefore crucial to the play's credibility. He twists and turns with the story perfectly. Christopher Hunter gives a chilling performance as Judge Hathorne and Susan Engel as Rebecca Nurse also produces some powerful characterisation. Director Timothy Sheader should be congratulated on this eerie realisation of 'The Crucible', adapted well for this al fresco venue and yet staying true to the playwright's intentions.

The play, written in 1953 is still just as politically and culturally relevant making the performance all the more poignant. Towards the end I found myself gasping and begging for a consoling outcome, but to no avail. The cold night and the chilling drama left me shivering as I left the park. I would urge you to catch this production before it ends on 19th June, it is a stunning rendition of Miller's classic. However if you prefer something a little more light-hearted, opt for Sondheim's 'Into the Woods' on at Regents Park from 6th August.

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