Review: Huntingdon Drama Club’s production of The Crucible was a “triumph”

The inquest was heard at Huntingdon Town Hall.

The inquest was heard at Huntingdon Town Hall. - Credit: Archant

The court room of Huntingdon Town Hall was the innovative setting for Huntingdon’s Drama Club’s production of The Crucible.

Having temporarily lost their regular performance space at the Commemoration Hall due to the building’s refurbishment, the drama club has were forced to think outside the box - and choosing to stage this dramatic play in such an austere venue provided their audience with a stunning natural set.

The audience themselves became the jurors as they sat all around the stage area as the play was performed in the round, with a small gallery area above.

In such a tricky setting the sound and lighting team certainly had their work cut out for them but managed to create a great atmosphere with simple, but effective lighting changes, and also a great soundtrack to accompany the piece. Music, brilliantly selected by director Rae Goodwin, included atmospheric tracks from Radiohead and Queens of the Stone Age (appropriately entitled Burn The Witch), Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley and Depeche Mode - and were an inspired choice to accompany this piece, as Rae had chosen to set in modern day, with a lovely explanation as to why in the programme from Arthur Miller himself.

The programme is worth a mention here as a lot of effort had clearly gone into its production. Rae had researched her material thoroughly, including visits to museums’ witchcraft exhibitions, and it showed. The direction was excellent and worked well in this court room setting, which blurred the boundaries between actor and spectator.

As the audience entered the performance space we found ourselves, rather alarmingly, in the middle of a church service in full flow. Hymns were being sung at top volume as the Reverend delivered a powerful sermon to his parishioners denouncing the devil and praising the Lord. This made us feel both awkward and rather unnerved and was a superb opening to the play - again, an inspired choice from the director, well done.

As the play began we saw the young girls dancing in the woods with Tituba, played by Francesca Maddocks (who also doubled up a Martha Corey), performing here in her debut with the drama club - a positive start to her journey.

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An eerie green light was used to great effect here to take us from the ‘in your face’ church service to the silent woodland setting, with music again creating the atmosphere here. Suddenly, we find ourselves back at Rev Parris’ house with young Betty (Esme Johnson) collapsed in bed. At just 11 years old Esme has a bright future ahead of her in the acting world and she did a wonderful job in this long and demanding play, never once faltering and remaining motionless in the bed for an inordinate amount of time until her cues. Great concentration and professionalism for such a young performer. Well done Esme on a superb performance throughout, you are a star in the making.

And the excellence continued with each and every one of the performers in this piece doing a sterling job. Let me say that the play was brilliantly cast throughout. Abigail was very well portrayed by Georgina Bickerdike, who managed to capture the many facets of this character and showed her great range of emotions with ease. This is the second time I have seen Georgina’s work and both times she has proved herself to be a talented performer.

Reverand Parris was played by James Barwise who showed us some great characterisation here, portraying a man of the cloth in turmoil. Your passion for the role shone through James, so much so, that slightly slowing your words would perhaps add some gravity to their meaning where required, rather than letting the enthusiasm run away with you. However, a fantastic job overall and a role to be proud of.

Carl Perkins, in the role of John Proctor, once again showed us what an accomplished actor he is. This is not the first time that I have seen Carl performing and he never fails to deliver. Having played this part previously, he proved that it is the perfect one for him, giving his all throughout in this emotionally demanding role. He drew the audience in completely and transported us to the world of John Proctor. Another outstanding performance Carl.

Hayley Kendall took on the role of Elizabeth Proctor. Having seen Hayley in varied roles before, here she was able to get her teeth into some serious drama, and again, show what a versatile actor she can be. This part requires some complex characterisation which Hayley took on superbly, really getting under the skin of Elizabeth and her relationship with John. A super performance Hayley - well done.

Emma Ward took on the complex character of Mary Warren, again another debut performance with this society. Not an easy role to master, Emma captured the emotion and fragility of this character with ease and again we saw yet another great portrayal from this talented young lady. Her continues snivelling, crying and desperation was both irritating and brilliant at the same time and must have left her exhausted each night. Another fine example of someone giving their all to the role. Congratulations Emma on a superb performance.

Guy Marshall and Sharon Reed as Mr and Mrs Putnam both performed beautifully. Guy is again new to the club, whereas Sharon’s first performance with them was more than 20 years ago. Excellent acting from both performers and a great relationship between the two characters - totally believable, well done. Bronte Beckett as Mercy Lewis again proved her versatility in this role, having previously appeared in Shakers. This time she showed us what a great dramatic actor she can be with an excellent performance - well done.

Phil Leverett as Francis Nurse and Paula Spalding, as both Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Good, did a great job. Phil is a seasoned performer with many local societies, having appeared in many productions and performed well in this role. Paula was a very convincing in her roles with some super characterisation as Rebecca - a great performance Paula, well done. Giles Corey was expertly played for us by Les Roberts, who gave us a brilliant character to watch. Les, I found you captivating to watch and you truly pulled on the heartstrings of the audience with your superb portrayal of this character - an excellent job.

Reverand Hale was performed for us by Dean Laccohee, reprising the role from his years at drama school. A superb performance, Dean captured the essence of this character and brought him to life with great maturity and understanding. A superb performance. Sandra Birnie, as Dep Gov Danforth, was perfect in the role. Excellent diction, superb projection and the character you presented for the audience was exactly as I would wish her to be - an excellent portrayal. Josephine Hussey gave us Judge Hawthorn and again showed us what a versatile actor she can be - a very stern and demanding character this time - and very different from recent roles. Well done Josephine on a sterling job.

Michelle Gibson played the part of Herrick, stepping in at the last minute to take on the role, learning the lines and character in record time - well done Michelle, the show must go on and you saved the day! Vicky Spurway gave us the very proper Miss Cheever and Louise West was Susanna Walcott. All three ladies played their characters well in this talented cast - well done to everyone.

With a wonderful and atmospheric setting (I particularly liked the use of candles in Act II), inspired use of music within the piece, some great direction and an excellent cast, Huntingdon Drama Club’s The Crucible was a triumph. Huge congratulations to all involved in putting this fantastic production together.