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Spellbinding performances, but unsound effects mar Miller's tale

The Crucible, Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until October 7 Moments of startling intensity illuminate this production of Arthur Miller’s angriest play. They assert themselves in the evocative trial scene when the mass hysteria of the 17th century Salem witch-hunts erupts into cataclysmic consequences for adults and children alike. At this point, director Samantha Harris has the play by its horns and effectively points the path towards the ultimate injustice and futility which the writer so brilliantly aligned with events of early-1950s America. Four outstanding performances ensure that the overall quality is maintained. Dan Gough’s portrayal of the conscience-stricken farmer John Proctor grows from a shaky start into a towering study of a man forced to re-define his own principles. The huge demands of the role are beautifully met to provide a figure of great passion and complexity. Matching him at key points of the play is Clare Sykes as the bewildered servant Mary Warren, touchingly torn between loyalty to her employers and her fear of powers beyond her understanding. And there’s a stunning turn by Caroline McCluskey as the slave Tituba driven to eventual madness by relentless showers of accusation. Add to these Sandy Robertson inserting moments of welcome wry humour into the character of the courageously campaigning old farmer Giles Corey, and the production gains further stature. Sadly, there is a substantial drawback in the ill-chosen music, presumably intended to illustrate the play’s modern relevance but actually hindering the vital period flavour. And the continuous soundtrack effects range between a rampant bumble bee and problems with the central heating. The words and actions of this piece in particular only suffer from such extra needless emphasis. This is not, however, to deny the overall achievement in mounting and controlling so sizeable a work with such a large cast. There are other strong

performances, a few weaker ones, and the ploy of having off-scene actors sitting around the back of the stage detracts from the more intimate parts. But for sheer scale, it has to be commended.

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