Left - Francesca Savige
Still they hunt them down. The pedophiles. The gays. The socialists. Boat people. Religious 'extremists'. New-age witches, sans broomsticks and cauldrons.
Arthur Miller's timeless fable speaks as much about the heathenistc paranoia of Salem in the 1600s (on which it is based) as it did the Senator McCarthy-led communist trials in the 1950s (when it was written and for which it became a powerful allegory) as it does of too many public debates today and no doubt in the future. It captures the human condition of inherent fear and loathing, the deep suspicion of the unknown - as pervasive a characteristic as there is - that as a human race we can't seem to shake.
The Crucible is as rich as it is familiar. Queensland Theatre Company Artistic Director Michael Gow doesn't mess with the formula, directing a faithful and affecting retelling thanks to a very fine cast.
Designer Robert Kemp's staging is kept simple. The action plays out upstage with a foreboding backdrop of tall timber from the spell-binding Salem forests. Ben Hughes' brooding lighting filters through the tree trunks to heighten the unease.
The 19-strong ensemble barely missed a beat on opening night, demonstrating a familiarity and obvious love of the weighty script to inject great pathos into the relationships and competing and complex psychologies.
The girly gaggle of accusers are all terrific, led strongly by Francesca Savige as the conniving protagonist Abigail Williams and Kathryn Marquet as the more emotionally-wrought, guilt-ridden Mary Warren (another engaging performance from the '25 Down' stand-out, part of the company's emerging artists program). Old-stagers like Penny Everingham and Bob Newman (Rebecca and Francis Nurse) and Leo Wockner (Giles Corey) are all utterly charming, to unfairly pick out some great experienced performers. Another veteran, Robert Coleby, exudes nothing but frightening zeal as judge and executioner, Deputy-Governor Danforth.
Former TV Week favourite Paul Bishop disappears into the role of Reverend Parris, gently balancing his righteous hysteria without slipping into comic melodrama. James Stewart is probably too boyish for the part of Reverend Hale, yet he ages almost visibly on stage as the doubt and guilt creeps over his face.
The story is grounded by John and Elizabeth Proctor (Andrew Buchanan, genuinely arresting in the role, and the always good Andrea Moor) who face no-win decisions and devastating consequences. Their fall at the hands of sheer narrow-mindedness is heartbreaking.
The last play Gow directed for his company, the abysmal 'School of Arts', inspired audience outrage in merely having to endure it. Here, mercifully, his flawless casting and light directorial touch simply lets Miller's damnation burn brightest. This is uncomfortably outrageous theatre simply because it is as devastatingly relevant as it ever was.
Queensland Theatre Company presents
by Arthur Miller
Director Michael Gow
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Previews: 26, 27, 28 October
Season: 29 October - 14 November
Tickets: $40-$63 Under 30: $30
Bookings: QTIX 136 246 or www.qldtheatreco.com.au