An hysterical subject, like the Salem witch trials of 1892, requires hysterical treatment up to a point. If Ken Russell made a film of The Crucible there would probably be no limit to the hysteria. But in the confines of Hampton Court Theatre, where Youth Action, under the direction of Eric Yardley, presented 'The Crucible' last week, a little hysteria went a long way. With the audience bearing down on them from all sides, the teenage cast must have felt like screaming more often than they did. Perhaps that was the idea of setting it in the round. From an audience point of view, it was a distraction. With a heavy play like 'The Crucible' concentration and involvement is paramount. If you're sitting bang opposite someone who keeps nodding off it is bound to distract you.
A difficult play to enjoy 'The Crucible' is nevertheless an ideal play for a group such as Youth Action, not only because of the large cast but also because of Arthur Miller's meaty dialogue and the repeated dramatic scenes and confrontations. The trial scene, for instance, was highly charged in Eric Yardley's production, with Stephen Pratt, Keith Holmes and David Lewsey giving performances of stature, the latter in particular. There were, perhaps, too many angry young men of much the same pitch and volume, but this is difficult to avoid in youth drama.
Barry Gunner, as the reverend gentleman whose daughter is the first to be stricken by devil fever, has unusually good diction. Of the girls, Christine Emery underplayed the role of Goody Proctor with admirable grace and conviction, and Tina Munkenbeck made her presence felt as the brazen Abigail.
One expects a high standard from Eric Yardley and he did not disappoint, although he and the cast probably derived more satisfaction out of the play than the audience, which is really as it should be with youth drama.