Birmingham Rep and Touring
Indisposed: a word that can send theatre companies, directors and understudies into apoplexy. When it's press night and the actor who's indisposed is one of the two stars featured in all your pre-show publicity, it's even more of a challenge.
But if you hadn't known that a slipped disc prevented Tony Britton playing the part of Deputy Governor Danforth in Arthur Miller's classic tale, you wouldn't have had any inclination that Benny Young was standing in for him.
Young doesn't have the physical presence that Britton possesses. But Young is arguably more effective as Danforth because this relatively small, scrawny-looking man has the power of life and death over those appearing before his court. He almost looks terrifying as he resembles the Witchfinder General of '60s horror films.
I wasn't really surprised by Young's excellent performance because it's what I've come to expect from the Touring Consortium. Jenny King and five major regional theatres got together eight years ago - Birmingham Rep joined later - to work on one curriculum-related drama each year. Having seen some of their previous offerings such as Miller's A View From the Bridge, Ronald Harwood's Taking Sides and Ibsen's A Doll's House, I expected a quality production with first-rate acting; I wasn't disappointed.
The Crucible is set in Massachusetts in 1692 and is based on a true story. A group of young girls are accused of witchcraft. The town of Salem is rife with illicit sex, paranoia and political manipulation. It leads to a wave of persecution and terror. Most of the townsfolk are wrapped up in a quest for revenge and self-preservation.
The play might not immediately speak to today's audiences but Jonathan Church's production retains all the power, passion and potency that Miller packs into the script.
Malcolm Storry is magnificent as John Proctor, the farmer whose determination to seek out the truth leads to his own downfall. His is a powerful interpretation and on more than one occasion the audience are shocked by the startling secrets he reveals.
There are also strong performances from Paul Shelley as rational Reverend Hale, Pip Donaghy as injudicious Reverend Parris, Patricia Kerrigan as Proctor's troubled wife Elizabeth and Angela Phinnimore as wrongly-accused servant Tituba.
Most of the large cast of nineteen are commendable, although some of the actors in the minor roles struggled to make their voices heard on the huge Rep stage.
Simon Higlett's set is utilitarian yet contains a few neat touches - the ending is appropriately impressive - while John Tams' music is pertinent and creates the ideal atmosphere for the period.
The Crucible is a test for any company; the Touring Consortium turns up the heat to produce a hot piece of theatre which should warm your heart and give you a few chills along the way.
"The Crucible" runs until October 23rd and then tours to Wimbledon, Edinburgh, Salford, Darlington, Bromley and Cardiff
David Chadderton reviewed this production at the Lowry, Salford
Reviewer: Steve Orme