Review in the Farnham Herald:
Arthur Miller’s classic parable of mass hysteria draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch hunt of 1692 and the McCarthyism that gripped America in the 1950’s. The story of how the small community of Salem is stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and malice, culminating in a violent climax, is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts, the plot moves along apace and the audience quickly learn that the protagonist John Proctor is the object of young Abigail William’s desire. She will stop at nothing to recapture his heart even if this means falsely accusing others of witchcraft, which will ultimately lead them to the gallows.
Director Ruth Ahmed’s superlative direction had the audience immersed from the outset with the actors performing in a three sided, thrust staging, sometimes only inches away from the audience.
Atmospheric lighting and the wonderfully harmonious singing voices of Susie Gow and Laura Musco set the stage for 3 hours of utter magic.
Naomi Robertson as Abigail Williams gave a stunning performance and although her stage time was limited, the sheer force of her characterisation left the audience in no doubt as to her mal intentions. Her portrayal was both vulnerable and sinister, the intensity of her deception being especially powerful in the court scene in Act 3.
Anthony Talbot as Reverend Parris gave a well-rounded performance as the restrained man of the cloth whose daughter Betty (superbly portrayed by the very young Bethan Phillips) and a number of young girls from the village, he had caught dancing naked in the woods, seemingly having succumbed to witchcraft. He finds himself in the juxtaposition of being the puritanical community pastor who wishes to strengthen his position during the witchcraft trials, whilst also being the contrite father. Anthony played the changing face of Rev. Parris with great depth and understanding.
Debbie Green as Tituba, in her first role with Tilbourne Players, gave an extremely convincing performance as Rev Parris’ slave from Barbados who was asked by the girls to ‘conjure spirits’ in the woods, thus leading to her being the first to be accused of witchcraft, the full angst of her accusation being expertly delivered.
Jane Quicke delivered a heartfelt performance as Ann Putnam, full of emotion and tangible sorrow as the grieving mother of 7 babies lost at childbirth, her cowed demeanour leaving the audience in no doubt as to her wretchedness.
Sara Wilson-Soppitt, always a consummate character actress, resonated as Rebecca Nurse, whom Ann Putnam holds responsible for the deaths of her babies. A respected pillar of the local community, Sara depicted her with a quiet yet steely forcefulness, her facial expressions alone capturing the true essence of Goody Nurse.
Ann’s husband Thomas, engagingly portrayed by Phil Ryder, was seen stoically supporting his wife as she in turn hovered over the ‘bewitched’ Betty Parris.
Jenny Melia as Proctor’s servant Mary Warren took us through the whole gamut of human emotion, a profoundly professional performance belying her age. In the intense court scene, her delivery was particularly captivating; managing to show misery, fear of the noose and contrition in equal measure.
Rev John Hale was superbly played by Linden Amero, (usually seen in comedy roles), but his portrayal of the upright, spiritual Reverend who had come to evaluate Salem, was a masterpiece in timing and presence on stage.
Bernard Whelan as Giles Corey gave a measured and passionate performance as a true and honourable man who stood up against the hysteria surrounding the allegations of witchcraft.
Chris Deacon (Deputy Governor Danforth) delivered a commanding, beautifully timed and authoritative performance, using his height to great advantage.
Francis Nurse (Jo Huddleston), Ezekiel Cheever (Ellis Nicholls), Marshall Herrick (Chris Angwin) and Judge Hathorne (David Gow) took their respective scenes to another level, each playing their smaller roles to great effect, especially the court scene, beautifully staged and lit.
Di Huddleston gave us a distracted and characterful portrayal of the mentally unstable and homeless Sarah Good, one of the first to be accused of witchcraft by Abigail.
Ruth Ahmed’s Year 10 GCSE class from Woolmer Hill School (Ellie Leatherby, Josie Waters, Jess de Souza and Grace McCarthy-Holland) convincingly played the ‘bewitched girls’, again in a manner belying their age, their perfectly executed hysteria never once verging towards the comedic.
Finally to Elizabeth and John Proctor, the former superbly played by Helen Phillips who gave a commanding performance full of stillness, as the falsely accused yet loyal wife, restrained for the most part with the occasional outburst of passion and grief.
Tony Carpenter’s portrayal of the tragic hero John Procter, a huge role, was skilfully delivered, depicting John’s innermost struggles in knowing that the allegations of witchcraft are lies but realising in equal measure that revealing this will attest to his own adultery.
To conclude, Ruth Ahmed’s inspired direction of a team of consummate actors, was assisted by atmospheric and evocative lighting (Robert Barnard); a pared down set, consisting of the clever use of only eight blocks (allowing Miller’s storytelling to do the work) to depict the bed, the chairs in the courtroom and the furniture in the Proctor house; the inclusion of beautifully harmonised period hymns (sympathetically arranged by Susie Gow) and finally visually authentic costumes (overseen by Sara Wilson-Soppitt) giving a subtle period authenticity.
The audience were truly captivated from start to finish. Well done one and all.