Left – James Adler. Photo – Jimmy Daniel
Eagles Nest Theatre’s take on Arthur Miller’s famous play is performed in the church-like (and cold) interior of the Brunswick Scout Hall, which helps bring about the atmosphere of Puritan Salem in Massachusetts, where the famed witch-hunts took place in the late 17th century.
The acoustics in Scout Hall are such that it's often hard to hear dialogue but when the actors walk about, the sound of their footsteps dominates, and this, presumably, is why director Phil Roberts has everyone standing so still for so much of the time, making for a woodenness to the production overall. Transitions between scenes are way too slow, adding to the sometimes plodding pace – use of a split scene stage for the first half would help and not interfere with the atmosphere. Not sure whether everyone would have worn hats indoors at the time – when the hats come off it does make for a sense of nakedness and vulnerability in the character, presumably the intention. Not all the performers are equally skilled at projection, so I missed a lot of what was said.
Stand-out deliveries came from Rebecca Morton as Elizabeth Proctor, Hannah Bolt as Mary Warren and Donna De Palma as Ann Putnam. Colin Craig as John Hale has some fine moments but is slightly too young for the role, not quite able to project the necessary gravitas, although he became much more convincing in the second half of the play. James Adler as John Proctor can always be heard but his presence at times almost overpowers the others. He offers a moving portrayal of a man struggling with to save his integrity. I could hear everything that Maureen Hartley, as a subdued Rebecca Nurse, said. David McCrae does a wonderfully sinister Reverend Parris, you shudder each time he goes near little Betty (eleven year old Aleda Davies in her stage debut). Laurie Fildes as Giles Corey adopts a sort of Yorkshire yokel accent, which is distracting since everyone else sounds Australian. The overall highlight for me in terms of performance was the deeply felt fearful outburst from Ezekiel Day as Tituba, an inspired casting choice.
A word needs to be made about the beautifully apt and atmospheric sound design by Jess Keefe. Three hours in a chilly hall in mid-winter is a lot to ask of an audience but here’s a chance to see one of the world’s great dramas on its feet.
Eagles Nest Theatre presents
by Arthur Miller
Directed by Phil Roberts
Venue: Brunswick Scout Hall | 213A Weston Street, Brunswick VIC
Dates: 23 May – 13 June 2015
Tickets: $22 – $30