AU ABROAD

Theatre Review: The Crucible - Bella Vista Farm, North West Sydney (Performances through Dec 29th)

Four girls are seated while the court judge questions them on their accusations.

The setting couldn't have been more perfect for Sport for Jove Theatre Co's production of The Crucible, part of the annual Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park Festival. Directed by Damien Ryan and set in the old shed on the grounds of Bella Vista Farm, the small stage was surrounded by candles, with a bed suspended on chains from the ceiling.

To begin the experience, the audience is lead through the beautiful old Macarthur farm house and as you pass each room you see characters lurking inside. An elderly couple nursing a baby, a woman singing quietly as she rocks in a chair, a girl being whipped within a darkened room and above you on the second floor, the preacher screaming about damnation. Welcome to Salem.

As you exit you see a group of young girls listening at the window and as they run off we are encouraged to follow them to the woods. Music and dancing ensues with some of the girls removing their clothes in a hypnotic trance. When they are disturbed they run off and we are guided back to our seats and the opening scene of the Arthur Miller play.

This introduction to Salem in 1692 was ingenious and so typical of the creative talents of Sport for Jove. By the time the audience had returned to their seats an eerie silence had descended and there was a distinct chill in the air that had nothing to do with the rain that would soon follow. This period in Salem's history was a time of suspicion, repression and overriding fear. At the heart of the play is a group of young girls whose wild and unfounded accusations ensure the death of numerous women within their community.

The leader of this group, Abigail Williams (played superbly by Lizzie Schebesta), uses people's fear to manipulate and ultimately murder those she doesn't particularly like. Most significantly she targets Elizabeth Proctor (Georgia Adamson) whose husband John (Julian Garner) she lusts after since their affair 7 months prior. Their relationship appears to be more than just the purely physical, as John's worldliness has left a lasting impact on the young girl. He has opened her eyes to beliefs and a world outside of the strict religious binds her uncle, Reverend Samuel Parris (Matt Edgerton) preaches.

Ultimately it is John Proctor who ends up facing the hanging noose as he speaks out in defense of his wife and others whom have been falsely accused by the girls. By speaking out he is also refuting the existence of witchcraft at all and the irrational and unfounded judgments of the church and the law. While the entire cast should be commended on what was an exceptional performance, special mention needs to be made of Julian Garner as John Proctor. His tortured portrayal of a man fighting against his beliefs and his own guilt is harrowing. Attention should also be paid to those who work behind the scenes as the set design, lighting and construction is as imperative as those who take the stage. Amazing work by Anna Gardiner (design), Sian James-Holland (lighting design), Rick Locke and Stefan von Reiche (set construction).

It's been 61 years since Miller wrote The Crucible but the notions of using fear to control and manipulate are as relevant today as they were in 1692 Salem. Perhaps that is why the play still has the power to overwhelm and enthrall or perhaps it is the skill of the cast who effectively bring this world to life.

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The Crucible continues at Bella Vista Farm until December 30th. The reviewer attended the performances on December 13th. Tickets and more details: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/theatre-festival/the-sydney-hills-shakesp...