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Jul 3rd

Blue Elephant Theatre is to Become a NPO

By Carolin Kopplin

The charming and innovative Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, which has nurtured such artists and companies as Theatre Ad Infinitum, Theatre Témoin and On the Run was amongst just five new theatre organisations in London to be added to Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations on June 27th.  

Blue Elephant Theatre is a small fringe theatre located on the Wyndham and Comber Estate in Camberwell, South London. It seeks to offer creative opportunities to those who may not otherwise to be able to access them, through both its Artistic and Participation Departments. Its Artistic Department works with emerging artists, programming new work across art forms but with a particular focus on theatre and dance. Its Participation Department has developed free high-quality creative, learning and community provision over many years to tackle issues locally which prevent people, especially disadvantaged young people, achieving their potential. The Blue Elephant’s equal emphasis on professional and participation work is very unusual in London fringe theatre.

Blue Elephant Theatre has been supported by Southwark Council since it opened in 1999 and by many other funders over the years, including Children in Need which has supported its Young People’s Theatre for a decade. In 2014, members of Young People’s Theatre joined Gareth Malone and a number of celebrity singers to record the year’s official BBC Children in Need single which went to number one in the charts. Recently, as Southwark Council’s Arts & Events’ budgets have been drastically cut, the future of the Blue Elephant has been uncertain at best but the prospect of being a National Portfolio Organisation from 2018-2022 provides much-needed stability for the organisation.

Co-Artistic Directors, Niamh de Valera and Jo Sadler-Lovett, are delighted by the news as are all Blue Elephant’s Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers. Niamh says, “We’re absolutely blown away by this news and by the number of people who have come forward to congratulate us this week. The Blue Elephant has touched a lot of people’s lives for the better and we are so relieved and excited that its future is now more secure than ever”.

More info on the Blue Elephant Theatre: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/

Jun 23rd

Forced Entertainment and Little Bulb Return to the Battersea Arts Centre

By Carolin Kopplin

 

Tim Etchell's Forced Entertainment returns to the Battersea Arts Centre, as its London home, to reinvent Dirty Work – a performance created nearly 20 years ago, that draws the audience into imaginary performances with casts of thousands. Following closely behind is the creative Little Bulb Theatre who will fill the BAC Courtyard theatre with their joyful musical melodrama, Extravaganza Macabre

DIRTY WORK (THE LATE SHIFT)

By Forced Entertainment

Returning to their 1998 performance Dirty Work, Forced Entertainment have created a new version of the piece that digs deeper into the comical and unsettling territory they established just before the turn of the Millennium.

The new work, Dirty Work (The Late Shift) develops the simple but immensely generative form of described or virtual events and celebrates the power of language to make things happen, co-opting the imaginative capacities of the audience to fill the stage with a delirium of images, scenes and events in bewildering and unnerving succession.

In Dirty Work (The Late Shift) two performers conjure an extraordinary performance in a collaborative and competitive act of description. From vast explosions to sub-atomic particles, with daily life, political interludes, dramas and cabaret turns in between, no event is too large and no image un-stageable for the protagonists, whose game of virtual theatre takes the audience on a roller coaster ride.

From theatrical spectacle to historical events, daily life to impossible feats, cabaret to political speeches, and from sublime beauty to vivid terrors, everything is here, in provocative, intimate and comical style. Accompanied by the sound of piano on a battered record player, Dirty Work (The Late Shift) explores and exposes a world in which real life is so often presented as spectacle.

Listings Information:

Title: Dirty Work (The Late Shift)
Artist/Company: Forced Entertainment
Venue: Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN
Date: 27 Jun – 1 Jul
Time: 7:30pm (Running Time: 85 mins)
Price: £17.50, £15, £12.50 concs
Age Recommendation: 16+
Booking Link:
www.bac.org.uk/dirtywork
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
 

Extravaganza Macabre by Little Bulb Theatre

Little Bulb Theatre returns to Battersea Arts Centre’s new open-air Courtyard this summer to delight family and fun-loving audiences with the joyfully silly production, Extravaganza Macabre, from 4 – 29 July.


A celebration of melodrama, music and mischief set in Victorian London, Extravaganza Macabre was created especially to launch Battersea Arts Centre’s Courtyard last year. Having gone down a treat, the production invites audiences to get up-close to the slapstick action across ground floor and balcony levels, with Pimm’s and picnic hampers chock-full of British favourites available to add to the summertime experience. 

Extravaganza Macabre tells a tale of two passionate lovers separated by a freak storm which leaves their fate in the clutches of a scheming villain set on keeping them apart forever. With only a clairvoyant maid and a loyal urchin to come to their rescue, a whirlwind of plot twists, original music hall numbers and audience interaction ensues, recommended for ages eight and up. 

The new 75m2 Courtyard is a unique and intimate space nestled at the heart of Battersea Arts Centre’s beautiful old town hall building. Designed by Stirling Prize winning architects Haworth Tompkins, the Courtyard was inspired by the radical Teatro Oficina in São Paulo, Brazil. With walls made from a bold mix of old red and shiny white bricks, trapdoors and surprise entrances and exits spread across three levels add to the 360 degree, open-air fun. The auditorium levels, made by Steeldeck, form the UK’s most intimate open-air theatre structure. 

Listings Information:

Title: Extravaganza Macabre

Artist/Company: Little Bulb Theatre

Venue: Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN

Date: 4 – 29 July

Time: 7:30pm | Saturday Matinees 2:30pm

Price: Stalls (Seated) £20 - £25 | Balcony (Standing) £10 - £15

Booking Link: www.bac.org.uk/extravaganza

Box Office: 020 7223 2223

Jun 13th

NEW SUMMER SEASON AT THE FINBOROUGH THEATRE

By Carolin Kopplin

The new Summer Season features two premieres of new writing and two rediscoveries. The two new plays – Continuity by new Northern Irish playwright Gerry Moynihan and the European premiere of Dolphins and Sharks from new African-American playwright James Anthony Tyler – were both originally seen as staged readings as part of Vibrant 2016 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights. The two rediscoveries are Just To Get Married by renowned suffragette Cicely Hamilton, first performed in 1910 and last seen in London in 1918; and Windows by John Galsworthy, which premiered in London at the Royal Court Theatre in 1922.

 

The season opens with the first London production in over a hundred years of Just To Get Married, a romantic comedy by renowned suffragette Cicely Hamilton, playing for a four week limited season from 25 July-19 August 2017. It runs concurrently with the world premiere of Continuity by new playwright Gerry Moynihan, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees between 30 July-13 August 2017.

 

The season continues with the first professional UK production in 85 years of Windows by John Galsworthy, directed by Geoffrey Beevers, well known for his work at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. Described by its author as “a comedy for idealists and others”, Windows plays from a three week limited season from 22 August-9 September 2017.

The season concludes with the European premiere from new African-American playwright James Anthony Tyler, Dolphins and Sharks plays for a three week limited season from 12 September-30 September 2017.

 

Elsewhere, two sell-out Finborough Theatre productions transfer in June: Incident At Vichy by Arthur Miller transfers to the King’s Head Theatre from 7-25 June 2017; and My Eyes Went Dark by Matt Wilkinson transfers to 59E59 Theaters, New York City, from 7 June - 2 July 2017.

 

Finborough Theatre Artistic Director Neil McPherson said: "Our new Summer Season is evenly balanced between our artistic policy’s twin strands – to present essential new writing, alongside genuinely unique rediscoveries. We have also just relaunched our Friends Scheme, making it even easier to support our award winning work.”

 

For full information, please visit www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photo credit: KinoLOWRES

May 8th

Voices from Chernobyl at the Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Karina Knapinska

 These people had already seen what for everyone else is still unknown. I felt like I was recording the future. (Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl)

I still remember the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in April, 1986. We were still in the middle of the cold war with Russia so very little information was shared. I lived in Munich at that time and we were warned by our government to avoid fresh milk for several weeks, venison and mushrooms - anything from the forest - for several years. And Bavaria is quite a distance from Ukraine. People in Ukraine were not warned. They continued eating fruit, vegetables, and dairy from their villages because the produce looked fine. After all radiation is invisible.

In the early to mid-1990s, Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich collected hundreds of stories from people living in villages near Chernobyl when the catastrophe happened - the wives of the firefighters who sacrificed themselves to save others, scientists, government officials, and ordinary people whose lives were changed forever. 

Director Germán D’Jesús adapted Keith Gessen's translation of Svetlana Alexievich's book for the stage and his 60-minute play, produced by Ténéré Arte, is currently running at the Jack Studio Theatre.

April 26, 1986. People in the towns near Chernobyl are going about their daily business when an explosion destroys a reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Station. The government quickly tries to cover up the catastrophe whilst firefighters and workers are dying of radiation poisoning because they are spending far more than the allotted time in the radioactive environment, working without any protection. More than 600,000 fire-fighters and emergency workers are called in from all over the Soviet Union to put out the fire. Tourists arrive to look at the spectacle and the locals continue eating their contaminated produce whilst government officials do nothing to discourage them. When severely deformed babies are born, some with missing organs, others with missing or additional limbs, the extent of the catastrophe starts to sink in.

Oleg Sidorchik

The play, featuring a dedicated cast of six actors, lends a voice to the victims of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Whilst the government was more concerned about protecting the state from the enemies of socialism than about the safety of its own people, many perished before they were finally evacuated from the contaminated areas, and the radioactive cloud moved on to bring contamination and death to other parts of eastern Europe, particularly Belarus, where Svetlana Alexievich was born.

The actors speak both English and Russian, which lends authenticity to the production. The cast all play a variety of roles but they still manage to create empathy for their characters. A newlywed young woman talks about how she could not even hold the hand of her dying husband because he was contaminated. A scientist describes the complete disorganization and disinformation after the explosion. And a worker talks about cleaning up the contaminated debris after the fire was put out, without a care for his own safety.

An unflinching and unsentimental account of one of the worst nuclear disasters.       

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 13th May 2017

Jack Studio Theatre

Running time: 60 minutes

In English and Russian (all Russian parts are accompanied by surtitles)

Photo credit Jack Studio Theatre.

May 7th

Brimstone and Treacle at the Hope Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Martin (Fergus Leathem) praying for Pattie (Olivia Beardsley)

All I want is the England I used to know. The England I remember.

Originally written as a BBC Play for Today in 1976, Brimstone and Treacle was initially banned due to its disturbing content. The play had its stage premiere at the Sheffield Crucible one year later. Matthew Parker, who just won an Offie Award as Best Artistic Director, now presents the 40th anniversary production of Dennis Potter's darkly comic and divisive play about prejudice and fear in English homes at the Hope Theatre.

1977. A suburb in North London. Mr Bates (Paul Clayton) complains about the bland sandwiches that his wife (Stephanie Bettie) serves him as his dinner after he has worked very hard all day. But Mrs Bates has a good excuse - she is the full-time carer of their disabled daughter Pattie (Olivia Beardsley) who suffered severe brain injuries in a traffic accident two years ago. Mr Bates sees in his daughter little more than a breathing cabbage but Mrs Bates remains hopeful that Pattie is still present somewhere deep inside her damaged brain. Mrs Bates is at the end of her tether as she hasn't been able to leave the house in two years. Mr Bates refuses to employ a carer because it is too expense, nor will he allow any visitors because Pattie is an embarrassment to him.

All of a sudden, Martin (Fergus Leathem) arrives on their doorstep, claiming that he loved Pattie and had proposed to her before she had her accident. When Martin offers to lend a hand with the care of his beloved, Mrs Bates embraces the idea, but Mr Bates remains skeptical - and rightfully so as there is something rather strange about Martin. Yet Martin manages to win him over by sharing Mr Bates' xenophobic ideas and "England first" ideology. 

 

Mr Bates (Paul Clayton)

Although Dennis Potter's play was written in the mid-1970s, it is still very relevant today. Paul Clayton's Mr Bates is a patriarch who considers his home his castle. He does not like the changes that he has experienced over the past couple of decades and wants back "his England" - the way it was when he was a child, which means getting rid of a large part of the current population. When Martin describes the unavoidable consequences of such an action, Mr Bates is appalled and denies that he would ever support such crimes - although he is a devout member of the Nationalist Party. Stephanie Beattie portrays Mrs Bates as a docile housewife who always tries to be pleasant for her husband's sake but is now so desperate to get out of the house that she doesn't mind leaving a complete stranger alone with her helpless daughter. Fergus Leathem playing Martin with a mix of smarmy charm and sardonic humour, delivers a clumsy one-note rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" to sway Mrs Bates' doubts. She trustingly dashes off to have her hair done, whilst Martin sexually abuses Pattie. Olivia Beardsley is outstanding as the severely disabled girl.  

Rachael Ryan's exquisite set features a stuffy living room with wallpaper with a rather unappealing floral design, suffocating any liberating thought. The sound design by Philip Matejtschuk ranges from Mantovani's violins to the wrath of God, adding to the eerieness of the story. 

Matthew Parker's production brings out the absurdity and dark humour of Dennis Potter's play. One finds oneself laughing before one chokes on one's laughter because this is really no laughing matter, or is it?

An outstanding rediscovery that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 20th May 2017

Hope Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes without an interval

Photo credit: lhphotoshots.jpg

May 3rd

Everything Between Us at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Dysfunctional siblings: Teeni (Katrina McKeever) and Sandra (Lynsey-Anne Moffat)

It horrifies me to be a human being.

David Ireland's dark comedy actually premiered in Washington DC before it went on to Belfast and Scotland in 2010. Produced by Solas Nua and Tinderbox Theatre, it won the Stewart Parker Trust Award, BBC Radio Drama Award and the Meyer Whitworth Award for Best New Play. It now receives its London premiere at the Finborough Theatre.

Just as Sandra Richardson prepares to take her seat on the newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland at Stormont, her long-lost sister Teeni storms in and punches the South African chairwoman in the face whilst hurling racial abuse at her. Sandra manages to drag Teenie into an empty, windowless room to calm her down. - Obviously this is not a realistic play or else Teenie would have been arrested by security and detained long before she could even come close enough to the chairwoman to attack her.

Sandra is a respected politician and the Protestant representative on the Commission at a crucial time in Northern Ireland whilst Teeni has just returned from Stavanger, Norway, where she lived in isolation, building ships. The two sisters have not seen each other in eleven years and it soon becomes clear that there is no love lost between them. As they fight and argue through years of unresolved conflicts, their relationship resembles the situation in their own country - or any country where fanatics try to torpedo any effort of peace and reconcilliation.

The two-hander focuses on the volatile Teeni (a tour-de-force performance by Katrina McKeever), who gets far more time to display her outrageous personality than her sister Sandra - shifting from stand-up comedy to pitiable loneliness before she erupts into another tirade of racial hatred. Sandra (an impressive Lynsey-Anne Moffat), who seems to have the patience of a saint, mainly listens but her character is not limited to being a goody-two-shoes. Although Sandra believes in reconciliation, she has dark thoughts and unresolved issues of her own, but Sandra is in control whereas Teeni is completely unpredictable.

The confrontation between the two sisters shows the difficulty of putting your past behind you. Both grew up as Irish Protestants, their father an Ulster Defence Association fighter who was murdered when they were children. Yet whereas Sandra is trying to overcome her prejudices and their violent history, Teeni's hatred remains unchanged: "Finians aren't people."

David Ireland seems to be an expert in using black comedy to dissect the irrationality of fanatics. His play Cypress Avenue, last year at the Royal Court, featured an Ulster loyalist who wanted to take revenge on his 5-week old granddaughter because he thought she looked like Gerry Adams.

Everything Between Us is not quite as shocking as Cypress Avenue, and Teenie's stand-up comedy act goes on longer than it needs to, but it is still a compelling play, sensitively directed by Neil Bull.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 16th May 2017

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844 847 1652

Running time: 70 minutes, no interval

Photograph by Tristram Kenton.

May 2nd

Twelfth Night at the Blue Elephant Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

If music be the food of love, play on.

The theatre company Original Impact draws upon performance art, popular culture and current affairs to create original work and is now presenting a modern, musical production of one of William Shakespeare's most popular plays. 

Sam Dunstan energetic production turns Illyria into a party island, defined by the words "To beer or not to beer (that is the question)" sprayed on the backwall. Duke Orsino (Andi Jashari), confident ruler of Illyria, is lusting after Olivia (Eve Niker), whose melancholy mood after her brother's death could not feel more out of place. Thankfully, she can count on her steward Malvolio (Timothy Weston) to calm her senses with his sombreness in this sunny paradise.

Sir Toby Belch (Joshua Jewkes) resembles a western tourist who has partied too long on Mallorca, complete with beer gut, sunglasses and white socks, whilst Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Dinos Psychogios) is turned into a rather hopeless DJ. Maria (Alexandria Anfield) is a self-confident bar maid and adored by Sir Toby for her wit. 

After an impressive storm scene that sees Katie Turner's Viola stranded on Illyria, Viola dresses up as the cheeky rapper Cesario, but she still looks very much like a girl. However, her scenes with Eve Niker's Olivia work very nicely as there is real chemistry between the two actors.

This is a very physical show with live music and a lot of slapstick. The songs have all been updated with Sian Eleanor Green's Feste emulating Whitney Houston and Andi Jashari's voice booming across the auditorium. There is no room for Elizabethan harmonies among selfies and mobile phones.

The cast speak Shakespeare's verse beautifully and the performance is entertaining, including many funny ideas. However, I felt that Sam Dunstan could have brought more to the production, there is little depth although Shakespeare's play offers so much to explore.

A fun night out.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 6th May 2017 at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell

Running time: 2 hours plus a 15-minute interval

May 1st

The Cardinal at the Southwark Playhouse

By Carolin Kopplin

Opponents: The Cardinal (Stephen Boxer) and Duchess Rosaura (Natalie Simpson)

Do not I walk upon the teeth of serpents?

The Cardinal was one of the last plays performed before Oliver Cromwell shut down the theatres. Considered one of James Shirley's finest dramas, this satirical revenge tragedy features two strong and witty opponents - the Cardinal (Stephen Boxer) and Duchess Rosaura (Natalie Simpson), who are equally weighted. The play pays reverence to some of the best-known revenge tragedies, most of all The Duchess of Malfi.

The Cardinal uses his influence on the King of Navarre (Ashley Cook) to arrange a marriage between the Duchess and his nephew Don Columbo (Jay Saighal), a fierce warrior who is presently fighting a war against Arragon. The Duchess, however, prefers the more refined and honorable Count D'Alvarez (Marcus Griffiths), and has no intention of marrying a brute. She writes to Columbo, asking to be released from the marriage contract. In his fury, Columbo almost kills the messenger - Antonio (Timothy Speyer) - but in his exaggerated self-esteem comes to think that the Duchess is just taunting him because she misses him so much. Antonio returns with the required release and the Duchess marries Count D'Alvarez. But Columbo returns on their wedding night and murders the Count, swearing that he will kill any future husband of Rosaura's, just as he killed D'Alvarez. Thanks to his war record and his influential uncle, Columbo remains unpunished. The Duchess becomes the ward of the Cardinal and is presumed to have gone mad. Meanwhile Colonel Hernando (Phil Cheadle), who has been publicly humiliated by Columbo, also seeks revenge against the Cardinal and his nephew.

Justin Audibert's production emphasises the satire in Shirley's text and the cast make the most of the dark humour in the play, creating a great rapport with the audience, who are frequently addressed in crowd scenes. The performance begins with a monologue by the Cardinal, played with smooth malevolence by Stephen Boxer. Natalie Simpson's Duchess Rosaura matches the Cardinal in wit and cunning. Phil Cheadle's Hernando is seething with restrained hatred which is finally released in his duel with Columbo, played as a rough brute by Jay Saighal. Timothy Speyer is a joy as Rosaura's amiable secretary Antonio.

The audience is welcomed by the smell of incense as they enter the auditorium. The stage is bare, yet resembles a grand hall or a cathedral (design by Anna Reid), also thanks to the sound design by Max Pappenheim, who composed the atmospheric music. The actors are wearing period costumes with matching weaponry, also beautifully designed by Anna Reid.  

Despite its length, Justin Audibert's atmospheric production is fast-paced and entertaining throughout, including a breathtaking sword fight (devised by Bret Yount) and a stunning masque, choreographed by Natasha Harrison. 

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 27th May 2017

Southwark Playhouse

Running time: 140 minutes including one interval

Photo by Mitzi de Margary

Apr 30th

Late Company at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

Todd Boyce, Lucy Robinson, Lisa Stevenson, David Leopold, Alex Lowe

You don't want an apology. You want blood.

Written by 28-year old Canadian Jordan Tannahill, this play deals with the suicide of a gay teenager who was bullied by other high school students in small-town Canada where homosexuality is still something that should be kept a secret. 

Debora (Lucy Robinson) and Michael Shaun-Hastings (Todd Boyce) are expecting guests for dinner. The table is beautifully set, with a bowl of flowers as its centrepiece, but Debora is not satisfied. Pacing around the table, she eventually disposes of the napkin rings because they might be too formal for the occasion. One year after the suicide of their 16-year old son Joel, the Shaun-Hastings have decided to meet with the high school bully, who was responsible for Joel's death, and his parents to find closure. Michael, a conservative politician, is not enthusiastic about this meeting but Debora, an artist who works in metal, tries to clear the negativity: "We're receiving and bestowing, Michael." But their guests are already forty minutes late.

When they finally arrive, Bill Dermot (Alex Lowe) explains that they are late due to an argument with his wife Tamara (Lisa Stevenson) - he shares Michael's skepticism regarding this meeting and did not want to go. Tamara, however, is eager to come together to achieve harmony and "put things behind them". She has been exchanging e-mails with Debora for some time and feels there can be reconciliation with Debora. Unfortunately, Tamara forgot to mention that her son Curtis (David Leopold) is allergic to shellfish so Curtis has to do with a sandwich and a few grapes whilst the rest of the dinner guests are having shellfish pasta.

Although Debora and Michael are trying to remain civil, the atmosphere is fraught with tension. Tamara soon switches from water to wine.

Curtis (David Leopold) reading his apology to Debora (Lucy Robinson)

Zahra Mansouri's beautiful set extends into the auditorium, placing the audience inside the dining room with the cast. As soon as the Dermots arrive, there is palpable tension. Debora seems calm and composed but there is bitterness and fury under her thin layer of civility. Tamara is longing for forgiveness and reconciliation. Michael, always the politician, is trying for the middle path whereas Bill proves to be even more of a bully than his son Curtis, who remains rather quiet during much of the evening, but is actually the most intriguing character.

Michael Yale's sensitive production about grief, forgiveness and reconciliation is almost painful to watch as two families are trying to find closure after a terrible tragedy. The play, which features an outstanding cast, shows that bigotry and intolerance also run in the family and dissects the relationship between sons and constantly absent fathers.

A gripping production that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 20th May 2016

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844 8471652

Running time: 70 minutes without an interval

Photo credit: Charlie Round-Turner

Apr 16th

The Crucible at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

 Crucible copy.jpg

Is the accuser always holy now?

Written by Arthur Miller in 1953 as a response to the communist witch-hunt, The Crucible is seen as a metaphor for McCarthyism as there were obvious parallels between the witch-trials in 17th century Salem and what witnesses were subjected to in hearings conducted by the House Unamerican Activities Community (HUAC). The cause was later hijacked by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who needed a patriotic platform that would generate enough publicity to guarantee his re-election. The play has never been more relevant than today when one can easily detect the strong parallels between the community of Salem - a society in the midst of great change and anxious about the future - and the political climate in the US and the UK. 

In the Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls is detected dancing in the forest by the local minister, Reverend Parris. Parris’s daughter Betty, has since fallen into a catatonic state. There is talk of witchcraft and Reverend Hale, a specialist in this field, has been asked to come and investigate. Parris doesn't believe in unnatural causes but he is scared that his enemies might harm him over his daughter's improper behaviour. Abigail Williams, who led the dancing party in the woods, convinces the girls not to admit anything. Abigail had a secret affair with John Proctor, a respected local farmer, whilst being engaged in his home. She was consequently fired by Proctor's wife Elizabeth. Abigail still desires Proctor but he regrets his adulterous behaviour and fends her off.  

 

A separate argument between Proctor, Parris, Giles Corey, and the wealthy landowner Thomas Putnam soon ensues. This dispute regards land deeds and money with Putnam trying to grab Corey's land and to dictate the terms in Salem because of his wealth whilst Proctor argues that it is up to the community to make decisions. As the men argue, Reverend Hale arrives and examines Betty. Hale then demands to speak to Tituba. After Parris and Hale interrogate her, the panicky Tituba confesses to communing with the devil, and she hysterically accuses various townsfolk of consorting with the devil. Suddenly, Abigail joins her, confessing to having seen the devil conspiring and cavorting with other townspeople. Betty joins them in naming witches.

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Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou) having a friendly talk with John and Elizabeth Proctor (Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates) 

A week later, 14 people are locked up in prison because they were "seen with the devil" by the hysterical girls. At first only vagrants and eccentric old women are denounced as witches. John Proctor is reluctant to go to court and inform the judges about Abigail's character when Mary Warren, their servant arrives, and informs them that Elizabeth had been accused of witchcraft but the court did not pursue the accusation. Shortly thereafter, Giles Corey and Francis Nurse come to the Proctor home with news that their wives have been arrested. Officers of the court suddenly arrive and arrest Elizabeth. After they have taken her, Proctor browbeats Mary, insisting that she must go to Salem and expose Abigail and the other girls as frauds. 

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Betty Parris (Leona Allen) and Abigail Williams (Lucy Keirl) having a vision

Douglas Rintoul's production is very fast-paced, which sometimes works against the tension of the play. Occasional stage directions, such as "The curtain falls" and "He conceives himself much as a young doctor on his first call" (regarding Reverend Hale), that are projected onto the wall can be amusing but I found them rather distracting.

Victoria Yeates gives a touching performance as Elizabeth Proctor but is rather subdued, which is especially noticeable in the important final scene between Elizabeth and her husband. Charlie Condou is very good as Reverend Hale who comes to regret his hasty judgment. Lucy Keirl convinces as Abigail Williams and Jonathan Tatler is excellent as Judge Danforth as he manipulates naive witnesses so their statements suit his agenda. Diana Yekinni impresses as Tituba, helpless in her low status as a slave and afraid for her life, and Augustina Seymour is very good as both Mary Warren and the dignified Rebecca Nurse.

The minimalist stage design by Anouk Schiltz consists of a panelled wall and a number of trees which works well for this play. However, the costumes seem to derive from various periods over the past few centuries without any consistency whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is also true for the accents. It is doubtful that a small Puritan community would entail accents from Ireland, Cornwall and Buckinghamshire. Yet is is possible that these minor points show the universality of the play.

An impressive production of a powerful play. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

The next stop of the tour will be Brighton from 24th April.

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson/aspx28

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval

Photo Credit: Alessia Chinazzo