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This is a courageous and innovative production of The Crucible, delivered with a real commitment. In the cavernous and dimly-lit Clermont Church, Pretty Villain Theatre Company set about the task of re-working Arthur Miller’s classic tale of witchcraft and treachery, based on the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. The audience are invited to follow the action and share the space with the actors.

The company created powerful images, weaving in and out amongst audience members to deliver their lines and draw us in to the story. I loved the fact that we could get close up and personal to the action; standing next to the young women possessed by the devil was certainly a unique experience for me. This vehicle created a tension all of its own, and I was fascinated to watch the audience’s reactions to having the actors so near.

The play was broken into four clear scenes, and in the main they were delivered well, unravelling the drama pretty seamlessly. The cast of twenty felt like a real ensemble, and delivered their lines with passion and conviction. Some were clearly stronger and more experienced than others and played their parts superbly, but The Crucible is a demanding and complex piece of writing, and I felt that each performer – no matter how small a part that they played – added to the rich mix of an excellent production.

While it would be unfair of me to single out any one performer for praise, I do feel that the director, Mark Wilson, deserves an individual mention.  He risked taking an unusual and entertaining slant on this famous play.  I particularly liked the direction of the courtroom scene, where each member of the audience was a part of the whole proceedings; there’s a nice touch too when the Judge and prosecution lawyer appear.

The cast did an excellent job portraying the village and its gradual descent from mild panic into chaos, the uncontrollable frenzy whipping up the whole auditorium. Alongside this, I really appreciated the marked difference between scenes, and the balance of stillness and movement that the company created. The last scene was particularly moving – tragic and inevitable – and the actors involved created a poignancy and defeatedness worthy of any great denouement.

I do however have to question its billing as promenade theatre. The audience moved very little really, just from one end of the hall to the other; it was the actors that created the movement, and most of the time the action could be more aptly described as delivered in the round. Unfortunately, the acoustics in the church sometimes did not serve the production so well and it was hard to distinguish some of the words, especially when voices were raised. Offsetting that frustration, however, the vast auditorium certainly added to the chilling eeriness of the witch hunt.

In summary, this was a visually interesting and engaging piece of theatre. I thought the whole cast did an excellent job, and it’s a production that I believe Arthur Miller himself would have been pleased to see. Pretty Villain certainly did his work justice.