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Henry Lawson Theatre Inc: The Crucible - Review by Rebecca Johnson

There is undeniable evidence that we find ourselves navigating turbulent times. One need only glance at the news to confront this reality. Rights, once taken for granted, are gradually eroding. Voices, painstakingly fought for, are now under scrutiny. Even the fundamental ability to independently think, to mould one's unique opinions and ideas, appears to be fading into obscurity. The oft-repeated refrain of "we live in unprecedented times" has lost its initial sense of novelty and comfort. These times are no longer truly unprecedented, and perhaps they never were.

This very idea takes centre stage in the Henry Lawson Theatre's rendition of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." Directed by Rebecca Fletcher, the ensemble skillfully embodies this 1953 play, which initially employed the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory for the pervasive fear and intrusive paranoia of 1950s McCarthyism, into a multifaceted exploration spanning three distinct time periods. In doing so, they adeptly illuminate the unsettling truths surrounding hysteria and the spread of misinformation, issues that persist within human society regardless of the era in which they unfold.

The cast for this production was well chosen, each actor infusing their character with their unique charms. Tayah Gulyas brought a captivating air of unlikability to the

character of Abigail Williams, masterfully capturing the tone of superiority and entitlement that only a young woman fully aware of her power can exude.

In the patriarchal roles of Reverend Parris, Judge Danforth, and Judge Hathorne were portrayed by Stephen Ollis, Ken Fletcher, and Mark Prophet who delivered their performances with unwavering zeal, embodying the authority of their characters. Mitchell Rist portrayed Reverend Hale with a compelling blend of critical discernment and compassionate empathy, evoking genuine sympathy for the character's shifting allegiances.

Nicole Smith and Elliot Prophet, as the Putnams, skillfully navigated the fine line between pitiable and avaricious, while Michelle Hussey embodied the piety of Rebecca Nurse with a convincing portrayal that revealed both vulnerability and inner strength. Similarly, Aurel Vasilescu, as Francis Nurse, charmed the audience as the grieving husband.

Davo Hardy's portrayal of Giles Corey grew increasingly comical, and Campbell Simpson made John Willard thoroughly likeable. Georgia Willet brought an energetic vitality to the character of Tituba, and among the ensemble, the young Aled Stephens stood out as the officious Ezekiel Cheaver.

"The girls," portrayed by Layissa Mugridge, Nicole Madden, Leisel Hussey, Olivia Gray, Lily Hampson, and Mya Crosetta, formed a perfectly harmonious group, capturing the essence of teenage unity with authenticity. Nicole Madden's expressive face added a delightful comedic touch, while Leisel Hussey's blood-curdling scream showcased a remarkable talent that left a lasting impression.

However, the stand out performances unquestionably came from Joshua Paterson and Holly-Leigh Prophet. Paterson's portrayal of John Proctor served as the linchpin of the entire production, delivering a heartfelt portrayal of shame, desperation, and seething rage with remarkable ease. Prophet delivered a masterful portrayal of the wronged wife, wronged further. Her performance was one of unwavering composure, characterised by a stillness and quietude that paradoxically brimmed with powerful emotions. If Paterson's John was the driving force of the production, Prophet was undoubtedly its heart. I commend both of them for their outstanding contributions.

Navigating the transitions between modern times, the era of 1950s McCarthyism, and the Puritan Salem period indeed presented a formidable challenge for both stage and costume design. The task was to effectively convey the shifting timelines while maintaining a cohesive and unified performance. The intentional minimalism in set dressing was a prudent choice, allowing the audience to focus on the characters and their evolution throughout the narrative.

The production made use of projected backdrops and compiled sound effects that cleverly drew parallels to modern news reporting. It left me wondering if there might have been even more potential to further incorporate these elements into the play, enhancing its impact and resonance.

Director Fletcher’s approach to Miller's 'The Crucible' was undeniably ambitious, and its pursuit was unquestionably worthwhile. The connections they aimed to establish between different time periods were both timely and compelling. While I believe there was room for further development in this direction, I must acknowledge that the performance was thoroughly enjoyable and came with much to recommend. I eagerly anticipate future productions from this talented cast and team. I give this production four signed confessions.

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