Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 7. April 23 1968

Drama: The witch-hunt

page 9

Drama: The witch-hunt

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is about witch hunting in Massachusetts in 1692. It was Miller's direct theatrical response to the latterday witch-hunting of Joseph McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committee some of whom ironically, ended up In the prisons to which they had condemned others. No such rough justice could be given the victims in Salem, who ended their lives by torture or by hanging. Miller's play is thus strong on (drama, and the producer for the VUW Drama Club, Antony Groser, seized must of the opportunties available to him. The production moved swittly-and bless the organisation, by the way, for its prompt start, its courteous front of house, its professionalism, and damn it to the Antarctic for the theatre's freezing temperature-rose to its climaxes in magnificent fashion, and developed the more difficult gentle passages most effectively.

Two scenes stand out in particular: first, the blazing horror generated by Abigail and her cohorts' hysteria in the anteroom of the Court, a scene greatly assisted by the previous clash of wills between the Deputy-Governor and John Proctor, and secondly, the moving final reconcilation of beliefs between Proctor and his wife.

The play was performed in a simple, adaptable set (lit, by the way, in too roseate a hue for young actors desperately trying to look older), and in costumes that were, for the most part, execrable. The young girls looked fine, but the men, struggling about in converted capping gowns and dyed, lightweight burlap, appeared to give up the attempt at looking reasonable, and instead chose to devote their energies to keeping the costumes on. Mr. Groser's production deserved something better than this.

But this is carrying criticism in the light of the total effort, for the acting of the students and their concerted work was often of a very high calibre. They were well served in their leads. John and Elizabeth Proctor (John and Gwen Hopkins) sustained their demanding roles well, although I could have wished for their first scene together to have reflected more of their personal tension, their growing estrangement, and their resulting preoccupation. It was difficult at first to believe that they had lived together a number of years or that that particular house was theirs. Nonetheless, as the play developed, so did the power of their performances.

Heather Robb as Abigail had. in the early scenes, the right amount of vixenishness (a la Fleur Forsyte), deviousness, and sexual precocity. Her "presence" on stage is astonishing, and it must have been difficult in the later scenes for her to control her obvious talent for big playing. At the only person in the cast who had to work to play a younger character, she would have been helped if her leading man had worn something other than flat slippers. This coupled with the fact that she wore a long, long shift in the scene in the woods did nothing to alter my conviction that the scene-added later by Miller-adds little of dramatic value to the play.

The Rev. Samuel Parris (Chris Cottingham) was played too much within one dimension, and his over-played, overwrought state at the beginning of the play left him little else but to continue his hand-wringing until the end. In contrast was the performance of Peter McKenzie as the Rev. John Hale, perhaps the most difficult of all the roles; a slightly smug man at the beginning (Mr. McKenzie mishandled this), Hale becomes a man tortured by the acts that have been committed and by his own involvement, and it is then that Mr. McKenzie, dropping a clipped, and not entirely understandable, style of speech, rose quite brilliantly to the challenge. He gave Terry Baker (as deputy-Governor Danforth) plenty of material off which he could play, and Mr. Baker used all of them, bringing a cold, reasoned logic to his mad and savage administration. It was easy to believe from his performance that Danforth could wield such a cruel and overriding power.

Susan Lothian's Mary Warren is easily the best of several I have seen. Faltering, not very bright, torn between her conscience and her fear, her Mary Warren lent credence to scenes that are dangerously near to melodrama.

In a cast of over twenty, one finds the business of singling out individuals difficult, but if one minor character stood out, it was Hamish Tristram's Marshall Willard. The question of age in student productions is a vexed one, and in a production like this, where neither the lighting, the make up, nor the flimsy costumes helped, the actor must look to himself. To "act" old (as did Sandra Nevezie and Ken Laraman) is not enough-the young actor must add weight to his body, his thoughts, and, is it were, his world. He must, always, in the final issue, aim first to achieve a sense of being old, and slow the tempo of everything down to this rhythm until his shoulders, his heavy feet, his gestures, and even his eyes reflect the weight of years and of knowledge. Then, even if he must hurry, he must do so on these terms. In short, the problem is as much a psychological one as a technical one, and while heavier boots, heavier clothes and even heavier movements are essential, they are not the entire answer Which brings me to Mr. Hamish Tristram (and with a name like that, what else could he be but an actor?) Of the entire cast (except, perhaps for Proctor and Danforth). he brought a rough rusticity, a sense of a slower and more ponderous age, and a quality of "stillness" and quiet authority to his role. This, coupled with a rich, country voice, ensured that his exit line (and it was almost his only one); "If I may say it, sir, I know this man all my life. It is a good man, Sir," was a rare and beautiful moment in the theatre. If I have made much of what seems little, it is because I wish to point out much that I consider important to this talented band of players.

All in all, then, a fine production with some superb moments. If Mr. Groser's picturisations and moves were sometimes clumsy, and the exists and entrances-their placement downstage, and their use by the actors— lamentably weak-such faults were more than compensated for by a tremendous sense of progression, an exciting rhythm throughout, and a particularly clean grasp by all of the play's intentions and direction.

A curious contrast indeed with a horrid little reading last week of another "topical play". Barbara Carson's MacBird, performed in the lunch-hour by members of the V.U.W. Drama Club. This sub-varsity pastiche received the production and the merciful oblivion that such tastelessness deserves. Its subject matter apart (and even the "Wahine" tragedy will be fair game for some aspiring voyeur, I suppose), the quality of the writing was in inverse proportion to its notoriety. A dirty joke, if it lacks wit, is merely depressing.

I cannot think of a better antidote to such poisonous material that the present production of The Crucible.

George Webby.

(Mr. Webby recently returned from Dallas, Texas, where he studied drama for nearly three years. He is at present Principal Lecturer in the Related Arts at Wellington Teachers College.)