Directed by Darren Hall and performed by the Belper Players Amateur Dramatic Society at the Guildhall Theatre, Derby 23rd to 26th May 2007.
Most will at least know something of this famous Miller play oft touted as an attack against the threat of free expression in the USA during the nineteen sixties.
The Players are a well known local group and they perform here with a daring minimalist set and a total lack of period costume. The actors instead perform in uniform white shirts and dark skirt or trousers. Although this may avoid any distraction from the Miller prose the lack of costume I personally found a detraction from the performance.
The story is of a group of young girls caught practising (voodoo) rites in the woods, the resulting scandal leads to the girls turning on the town accusing them of Witchcraft to in part, protect themselves. The result is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions as numerous innocents are hung for Witchcraft.
Eventually the accusations focus on anyone who has ever crossed the girls in the past and those who dare to doubt them now, as they positively revel in their celebrity.
This includes the wife of John Proctor who had a brief affair with his former servant girl, the ring leader of the accusers Abigail Williams. His wife is taken to prison leaving the man in utter despair and eventually this leads to a meeting with Williams in an attempt to save his wife.
The secret meeting between John Proctor and Abigail Williams in the woods should be filled with sexual tension. Unfortunately at the end of this scene I still found it hard to believe they had so much as held hands, never mind that Proctor had “known her in the barn.”
To be fair the part of Williams is a very difficult one as the actress is expected to portray two very different personalities. To the world at large she must be a child but in private and to the audience, she must convey a sexually experienced girl.
The part is traditionally portrayed as that of a sexually awakening teenage girl but historically it is said that the real Abigail Williams was only twelve years old. Today this is very shocking but still leaves us with a twelve year old girl that first commits adultery and then sets about the judicial murder of her neighbours.
In particular by targeting the wife of her former lover, Abigail hopes that after her death John will return to her. Not an easy part to take on and it is no surprise to see Chelsea Richter struggle at times with the role, many a professional actress has done so before her.
The penultimate scenes however are utterly disturbing and better handled by the cast than the earlier ones. Elizabeth Proctor pleads her belly (pregnant) but by a warped twist of fate her husband stands accused. This leads to a cross examination by the deputy governor played with true menace by Martin Drake that terrifies the audience. The final tragedy is that the principled John Proctor faces the gallows as his wife goes free.
Ultimately this is a classic play given an average but competent performance, with a few moments of sparkle to illuminate the tragic circumstances of the times.