Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Crucible - Melbourne Theatre Company

A good director exercises a kind of sorcery over his cast, so that they become possessed with the characters they play, rather than merely mouthing the words in the script. Sadly, while The Crucible tells the story of an obsession with witchcraft, no magic alchemy was evident in this production.

Instead, the whole thing was almost hilariously terrible. One of the reasons for this was the set, which, in contrast to the period costumes, was featureless - just plain white surfaces, providing no nourishment for the eye - and restricted the action to a very narrow slice of the unusually spacious stage. Its smallness meant the actors had to be squeezed up together, with virtually no room in which to make large gestures or movements. As a result, I became more and more awkwardly aware of the actors' arms, which dangled stiffly at their sides, making the cast look like Thunderbirds puppets.

David Wenham - who for some reason was wearing the world's most ridiculous wig (and, in this regard, the theatre's publicity, which showed him with his normal hair and a military coat, rather than the girly smock shirt and culottes he was actually dressed in, was misleading) -  devised a physical tic to resolve this: every couple of minutes he would roll up his sleeve while he talked. However,since he'd only rolled that sleeve up two minutes earlier, it never actuallly needed any rolling up, which made things even more squirmingly embarrassing.

Things improved slightly when the judges came on in the second half, but, despite their heightened energy, it was much too late. The excruciatingly amateurish impression created by the first half could not be erased. There was no empathy built up between audience and actors, and the witless refusal to draw from the text any parallel with events in the contemporary world meant the production lacked resonance on any level.

In the final scene, which ought to have felt tragic and heroic, the sight of David Wenham clanking about barefoot in chains, stiff carrot-coloured locks framing his inexpressive face, evoked no sympathetic feeling in me. As he delivered himself woodenly of passionate lines, my thoughts kept turning to his bare feet. In place of compassion and sadness, my head filled with images from the current TV advertising campaign which promotes a treatment for toenail fungus. It was all I could do to stifle my guffaws.

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