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The Crucible

Nicola Mostyn is bewitched by The Crucible

Published on February 6th 2008.

The Crucible

Bolton Octagon weaves a gripping spell with this Arthur Miller classic

As part of their 40th Anniversary celebrations, Bolton Octagon have filled their season with some powerful works, including this production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; the writer’s comment on the anti-Communist witch hunts under Senator McCarthy, reset in New England in 1692 when rumours of real witchcraft were at large.

The play opens with a surge of dramatic music and some demonic laughter as a young girl lies in bed. It’s a bracing start to what is to be a taut and compelling production.

It is Salem, Massachusetts and a group of girls have been found discovered dancing in the woods. Two of them have taken ill with seizures and the villagers are talking witchcraft. The father of one of the afflicted girls, the unpopular Revered Parris, is under pressure to find the truth behind his daughter’s condition and the focus lands on his niece, ringleader Abigail, to reveal exactly what they were up to. As the pressure mounts for the children to reveal who is ‘bewitching’ them, events begin to spiral until no-one in Salem is safe from accusations of conspiring with the devil.

Miller’s play is beautifully written and in this Octagon Theatre Production, directed by Mark Babych, the complex sentiments are excellently realised.

This version of The Crucible draws out more humour than I have seen in previous productions but the mirth works well with the darkness of the piece. Well paced and well handled, the surreal situation in which anyone could be next accused is built up skilfully, so that the lunacy of events takes on a certain chilling plausibility. Old grievances fester in this close-knit community and each, we realise, has a vested interest in believing what they do.

The set is a sparse collection of wooden boards and plain tables, reflecting the Puritanism of the time and leaving the audience to focus on the words and the actors. This is a tight, poetic, stunning piece of writing, an unflinching comment on conspiracy, community and conscience and, happily, the cast are all equal to the job.

Sean O’Callaghan is gratifyingly un-likeable as the arrogant, hard-done-by Reverend Parris whose haughtiness crumbles as events unfold and Matthew Rixon (son of Matthew Kelly) forms a good counterpoint as the well-meaning Reverend Hale whose determination to detect the root of the evil leaves him culpable for the tragic events. As John Proctor, the man at the centre of the play, actor Chook Sibtain has an unexpectedly soft edge. However, ultimately he convinces as the farmer whose betrayal of his pious wife, Elizabeth (Mairead Conneely) with the precocious and passionate Abigail comes back to haunt him in a way he couldn’t have imagined.

The cast are all strong, but particular mention should go to the girls, with Jenna Southworth, Catherine Kinsella, Claire Lever and Hayley Jane Standing providing the play’s most memorable moment in a fraught and hysterical courtroom scene in which they are ‘possessed’.

With atmospheric music, a wonderful cast and a two and a half hour running time which flies by, this is a superb production of a powerful and pertinent masterpiece - not to be missed.

The Crucible, until March 1, from £8.50. Octagon theatre, Bolton, Howell Croft South, Bolton, BL1 1SB. 01204 520661

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