Tensions defined

Ann FitzGerald

Arthur Miller's 80th birthday falls during the run of The Crucible, mounted by Birmingham Stage Company, and we are reminded of what a powerful voice he is in the theatre.

Is there any other playwright who has reminded us so forcefully, in the second half of the century, of the price of material success?

Jonathan Church's direction does Miller credit. Every voice and personality in the tight-knit community is clearly defined: the rugged, irascible honesty of Martin Turner's Proctor, the crumpled but indomitable Rebecca Nurse from Mary Wimbush and the preening, selfrighteous Puttnam (Andrew Cuthbert).

Carolyn Backhouse's Abigail Williams, tall, blonde, unbonnetted, glows like a flame, making every other woman drab beside her. The contrast with Elizabeth Proctor's little hedge-sparrow (Theresa Fresson) is striking.

The balance shifts subtly to and fro, held in tension, particularly in Mary Warren's deposition scene, though Neal Foster is a surprisingly youthful Deputy Governor - supposedly a man in his sixties with a weight of experience and authority behind him.

The plain wooden staging (Nikki Turner) is beautifully lit by Nick Beadle: late afternoon sunshine bestows an elegiac quality on the Proctor's farmhouse giving credence to his, "Massachusetts is a beauty in the spring".

Birmingham Old Rep until October 14 (tickets: 0121 643 9050) then tours to Billingham, Eastbourne and Salisbury.

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