Review: The Crucible (Soulpepper)

The Salem Witch Trials come to Toronto theatre with Soulpepper’s “emotionally profound” production of The Crucible.

It dawned on me as I sat in the Baillie Theatre waiting for The Crucible to begin that I find it super funny that audience members get so much delight when they enter the space, house lights on, to find an actor already onstage – sleeping, comatose, what have you.  “That’s a real person!  She’s breathing!” I heard a woman exclaim in delight.  “And I expect there will be more where she came from.” I muttered under my breath.  She politely ignored me.  Bless.

The Crucible is playing as part of Soulpepper’s Summer 2012 season.  I have to say that I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to review this show.  I’ve seen a number of productions of Arthur Miller’s play and it’s one of my absolute favourites.  I’m glad to say that this Albert Schultz-helmed production did not disappoint.  In fact, it’s probably the best production that I’ve seen of The Crucible.

The story takes place during the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts.  The main action centres on John Proctor, an arguably ‘good’ man whose fatal flaw is his lechery.  After a group of young girls from the town are caught dancing and conjuring by the local minister, a stream of accusations of witchcraft forces the people of the town to consider what they’re willing to stand for.

In my experience, this particular script can take a while to hook the audience, which is the case with this production.  The first two scenes didn’t seem entirely capable of being carried by the largely young cast and some of the emotional range required by the female leads didn’t seem to be within reach.  Having said that, I was on the edge of my seat for the second act and was moved to tears on multiple occasions during the last two scenes.

I have to give a resounding kudos to Stuart Hughes who played the role of John Proctor; he gave me chills with his cathartic speeches and emotional crusade for his wife.  A scene between Hughes’ Proctor and his wife Elizabeth, played by Patricia Fagan, near the end of the play stirred my heart in all of the ways that I’ve come to expect of Miller’s text.  I must also mention that William Webster, as Giles Corey, finds the perfect balance between the tragedy of his character and the incredible lightness of the comedy that the script ironically allows at times.

Apart from the fact that I would have loved to see the stage action of the play end about 20 seconds sooner than it did, I would call the second act a flawless and emotionally profound success.  See this play before it closes.  Stunningly beautiful.