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Newbury Dramatic Society - The Crucible

St Mary's Church, Thatcham, 30th November to 1st December 2001.

This review is from the Newbury Weekly News.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller: Newbury Dramatic Society, at St Mary’s Church, Thatcham from 30th November to 1st December

The Crucible is an ambitious play to produce. It has a large cast and makes big demands of its leading actors. It deals with the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 and there are obvious parallels with McCarthyism in 1950s America (Miller wrote the play in 1952) and the religious and ethnic intolerance currently being experienced in the world. In the small rural community of Salem, a climate of fear turns the harmless romps of a group of teenage girls into a full-scale witch-hunt.

Reviewing amateur theatre in West Berkshire is usually a joy. There is a wealth of talented groups and I’ve seen some excellent productions. Once in a while, I see something exceptionally good - this was such a production. What marked it out was the intensity of the performances. When Abigail Williams, the girls’ ringleader, played by Rebecca Girdler, realised that Rev. Parris (Trevor Pitman) was suspecting her, you could see the fear in her eyes. Her encounter with John Proctor (Julian Pomroy), recalling their previous liaison, was charged with emotion, and her denunciation, with Betty Parris (Joanna Dunmer) of the people she had seen with the devil was electrifying. Julian Pomroy had great stage presence and gave an outstanding performance. Daphne Outwin, as his wife Elizabeth, showed the anguish of a simple farmer’s wife, out of her depth and confused by the events overtaking her. Paul Farrell gave Rev. Hale a single-minded strength of purpose at the start, contrasting well with the self-doubt that grew towards the end. Colin Benham played Danforth with impressive authority.

Among the supporting actors, there were very strong performances from Natasha Holmes as Tituba and Fenella Newton as Mary Warren.

The church made a good setting, and the atmospheric lighting gave a spooky feel to the whole play. The singing at the start and end was effective and gave a good juxtaposition of traditional and Barbadian music.

The fact that everyone except Tituba had English accents puzzled me, but did not detract from the performance at all. Congratulations to director Ann Davidson for such an impressive production. It is being staged again on 31st January and 1st and 2nd February at the Watermill. Go and see it.


The play was performed again at the Watermill, 30th January to 2nd February 2002.

This is from the NWN.

Second bite for power play

'THE CRUCIBLE', performed by Newbury Dramatic Society, at The Watermill, from Wednesday, January 30 to Saturday, February 2

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, proved a suitable venue for Newbury Dramatic Society's second run of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a powerful play concerning the Salem witch hunts in 1692. This was an enjoyable performance of a play which purposely draws shocking parallels with the McCarthy communist trials in post-war America.

The play had a slightly uncertain start as actors warmed up on the first night of this run. However, the arrival of John Proctor, (Julian Pomroy) brought an intense feeling of temptation that the character felt for young Abigail. Together, Pomroy and Rebecca Girdler conveyed the passion of their past relationship with great skill. Paul Farrell, playing the respected Reverend Hale was also well cast. His humanity, combined with an overwhelming sense of duty was totally believable as he comforted the anxious villagers. The steady pace of this act led to a chilling climax as Abigail and Betty cried charges of witchery to the horror of the rather crowded stage full of onlookers.

Act two provided a contrast with a sense of intimacy, well portrayed from the start by Proctor and his wife Elizabeth (Daphne Outwin). In this act Mary Warren was played superbly by Fenella Newton with a sense of innocence and later terror as she realised the danger of Abigail's lies.

The second half of the performance contained the climax of the play. Judges Hathorne, (Mike Cole) and Danforth (Colin Benham) commanded authority within this scene with Benham giving an understated, yet totally convincing, performance throughout. As the girls worked together, building hysteria to convince the court, they were faultless.

It seemed that a decision had been made by director Ann Davidson to highlight the moments of comedy within the play. At times this worked well, as it conveyed the ridiculousness of the situation, but at times it became distracting as some actors overplayed their characters' sense of shock. This was unfortunate, but perhaps more noticeable owing to the strength of other actors. Overall this was a good performance well-suited to this atmospheric location, although perhaps the full depth of the Watermill stage could have been utilised to provide more space for busier scenes.

Congratulations to all involved.


Editorial 9th February 2002 - Opposing views

When you write a rave review of a play, you're setting yourself up to be shot down. In November, I saw The Crucible by Newbury Dramatic Society at St Mary's Church, Thatcham, and I thought it was great - I said so in the review. At the end of January, they took it to the Watermill, where it got a good review, but not a rave review. Last week, I had a couple of emails about the Watermill production. One of them liked it, the other one hated it. He sent me a long email, in which he said "... I was witness to what could only be described as an embarrassment. The acting wasn't up to much, although I would suggest that this was more to do with incompetent direction than purely lack of skill." He went on to give a detailed, and well-reasoned, explanation of what he thought was wrong with it.

Anyone who's read film or theatre reviews in the nationals will know that the critics give widely differing views, so should we take anything the critics say with a pinch of salt? Of course, it may be that The Crucible  lost something in its journey from Thatcham to Bagnor; however, in my view, although the play was by no means perfect, there was some really good acting and some electrifying tension that lifted it out of the ordinary.