Preview: The Crucible at the Sheldonian

Stage

The Crucible is a particularly raw, tense – and almost claustrophic – play, with a tendency to moments of explosive drama, and this usually results in rather a lot of shouting. This is an understandable trap to fall into given the narrative follows the families involved in the Salem witch trials of the 1690s, a true story in which scores of innocents were condemned to death for compacting with the devil. It functions as an allegory for the frenzy of suspicion and accusation that gripped 1950s America under McCarthy. In spite of these extremely high stakes for a young group of actors, Lily Slater has managed to maintain the play’s emotional intensity whilst keeping voices down.

Slater exploits the play for its capacity to be deeply chilling and sinister. When the girls imitate Mary Warren, pretending to be in the presence of devilish forces, their usual shrieking is softened. Instead, we get a creepy and highly charged unison of voices – a refreshing take on events in the court scene.

Thomas Curzon, playing John Proctor, achieves something really special in his disturbingly quiet anger. Here is a gifted first year that the OxStu will be keeping an eye on. From his subtle strength to his trembling energy, he is capable of the full scope that Proctor requires. I suspect the director has fully exploited this in rehearsal, given that almost two weeks before the show opens, he is so convincing.

Sam Liu as Judge Danforth commanded a distinct presence but perhaps hasn’t yet achieved the vocal quality that the deputy governor of Massachusetts demands. Liu’s take on Danforth’s officiousness and his sharp tongue were highly effective, yet Danforth is one of the true villains of the piece and Liu’s performance lacked the terrifying status of a man representing the iron fist of the law. I have no doubt that he has the potential, in this last week of rehearsals, to take Danforth up to fever pitch.

As Emma Hewitt, playing the passionate but near-demented Abigail Williams, walks on stage, she immediately commands my attention; her look to Mary Warren, played by Linnet Kaymer, conveyed the full promise of razor-sharp vengeance and vicious manipulation that utterly befits Hewitt’s character. Kaymer, too, was worthy of mention: she was remarkably committed to the high drama and naïve vulnerability of Mary Warren. Even in this early preview, Kaymer has managed to reach impressive heights of emotional intensity, which she sustains unfalteringly throughout the act.

Rosalind Brody, playing Elizabeth Proctor, enters at a hiatus in the act. Her beautifully controlled delivery of pivotal lines instilled a moment of palpable tension into the scene. Slater’s staging enhances the divided loyalties of the court, with Brody at the centre, framed by Curzon and Hewitt, facing the audience. Brody is sure to be very moving in her more prominent scenes. The three leads each bring something very different to their parts and are perfectly cast.

The Crucible is ambitiously directed and will take place in a challenging space, in which I hope the risks continue to pay off. If they do, we’re in for a big treat, which may leave a positive legacy for the Sheldonian in the future.

IMAGE/ Crucible publicity