The Crucible

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

05/07/2007 - 28/07/2007

Production Details

by Arthur Miller
Director – Colin McColl
Assistant Director – Margaret-Mary Hollins


Great plays endure the ins and outs of fashion because they speak universal truths – and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is unnervingly topical in today’s terrorist world.  Auckland Theatre Company presents a rare opportunity to see a professional production of this great American masterpiece at the Maidment Theatre from July 5 – July 28.

Miller, who died on 10 February 2005, wrote The Crucible as a response to the McCarthy anti-communist trials of the 1950’s.  The play now reads as a stark warning about the dangers of irrational belief.

Director, Colin McColl says: “Miller wrote The Crucible in the early 1950s when the American Government was propagating the myth of a deadly and unseen enemy threatening the safety of every American citizen.  It used this to justify its blatant breaches of justice and civil liberties and increasing authoritarianism.  The parallels today are startling.  With many New Zealanders questioning whether they are still living in a secular society, it seemed the perfect time to revisit his epic vision of a community gone mad with mistrust and mass hysteria – religious extremism is alive and kicking on stage in Auckland.”

When the young girls of a closed religious sect are discovered experimenting with devil-worship in the woods they try to save themselves by denouncing their neighbours as witches and Satanists.  A chain of events is set in place that sees the innocent implicated by a community in the grip of fear and suspicion. 

The Crucible’s 23-strong ensemble cast showcases the depth and breadth of talents in Auckland. From celebrated veteran performers Raymond Hawthorne, George Henare, Ray Henwood and Elizabeth McRae; to leading mid-career stage actors, Peter Daube and Hera Dunleavy, as John and Elizabeth Proctor; Roy Ward, Rima Te Wiata, Margaret-Mary Hollins, David Aston, Gareth Reeves and Edwin Wright.  Some of New Zealand’s most talented newcomers round out this cast, including Curtis Vowell (recently in Bare at Silo Theatre), Michelle Blundell, Brooke Williams, Ellen Simpson as Abigail Williams and Shortland Street‘s reformed bad girl Emily Robins.  No stranger to political intrigue, Bree Peters, daughter of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, makes her professional stage debut with this production.

As part of their training, five Graduation students from UNITEC School of Performing and Screen Arts join us for The Crucible.

Internationally acclaimed theatre designers Tracy Grant, David Eversfield and John Gibson have created an intelligent and chillingly beautiful staging of the play, drawing on contemporary references while still paying homage to the play’s original setting.

The cornerstone of Auckland Theatre Company’s 15th birthday celebrations, The Crucible is a theatrical treat for Auckland theatre-goers and audiences further afield – with 42 schools from as far away as Wellington having already booked to see this production.

Tickets to Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible are available through the Maidment Theatre Box Office 09 3082383 or online  

Set and Costume Design - Tracy Grant
Lighting Design - David Eversfield
Sound Design and Musical Director - John Gibson

David Aston - Thomas Putnam
Michelle Blundell - Betty Parris
Peter Daube - John Proctor
Hera Dunleavy - Elizabeth Proctor
Raymond Hawthorne - Danforth
George Henare - Giles Corey
Ray Henwood - Hathorne
Margaret-Mary Hollins - Ann Putnam
Elizabeth McRae - Rebecca Nurse
Bree Peters - Mercy Lewis
Gareth Reeves - Reverend Parris
Emily Robins - Susanna Walcott
Ellen Simpson - Abigail Williams
Rima Te Wiata - Tituba
Curtis Vowell - Ezekiel Cheever
Roy Ward - Reverend Hale
Brooke Williams - Mary Warren
Edwin Wright - Marshall Herrick
Jacqui Nauman, Nicole Jorgensen, James Baker, Sarah Graham, Joel Herbert

Production Manager Mark Gosling
Technical Manager Bonnie Burrill  
Stage Manager Vicki Slow
Assistant Stage Manager Petra Verweij
Set Construction 2CONSTRUCT
Costume Construction The Costume Studio
Properties Master Bec Ehlers
Operator Rhed Clift
Wardrobe Supervisor Erin O'Neill  

Theatre ,

Thrilling dynamics

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 10th Jul 2007

Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s most-popular play lands the elusive double of emotionally gripping entertainment combined with meaningful intellectual stimulation.

The grim economics of live theatre have ground down the size and scope of contemporary plays, but with a cast of 22, The Crucible offers the expansive vision and dense textures of Shakespearean drama.  [Read more]


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Riveting, relevant and undeniably provocative

Review by Sian Robertson 09th Jul 2007

Taking a seat in the Maidment auditorium, even with the house lights up, the set is instantly striking. The looming angles of what become alternately an attic, meeting house, kitchen and courtroom, are at once simple enough to accommodate the various locations and strongly suggestive of the passionless, rigid yet precarious puritan mindset of its occupants.

The play concerns itself with the witch trials that took place in an insular and superstitious town in the late 17th century. When a group of girls play ungodly but (by today’s standards) innocuous games, they decide to divert attention from their activities by carelessly accusing some of the townsfolk of witchcraft.

What starts out as a childish game turns into a full-blown and unyielding witch hunt, fed by underlying personal motives, irrational fear and self preservation. The town’s most upstanding citizens are caught in the crossfire and condemned for their very refusal to compromise their integrity. If they confess to consorting with the devil, they will be spared. This is the court’s position: the accused are guilty and unable to be proven innocent.

Written as an allegory of the political ‘witch hunt’ during the USA’s anti-communist paranoia of the 1950s McCarthy era, The Crucible is based on events that took place in late 17th century Salem, a puritan settlement in Massachusetts. But it doesn’t stop there: The Crucible resonates as a global and timeless metaphor for political tyranny and persecution in the name of religious conviction; for irrational consensus vs. individual integrity.  

In a senseless fight between truth and what cannot be proven, the majority eagerly embrace the indiscriminate accusations with a disturbing thirst for retribution. The accused withhold evidence that could save them, bear dubious witness to save their own hides … Giles Corey unwittingly condemns his wife to death simply by mentioning that she reads books.

With life in this very simple town thrown into chaos and threatening to collapse in on itself, John Proctor, the victim of a jealous young woman’s bitter revenge, must make the impossible choice between living a lie for the rest of his life, or leaving with his dignity intact but his wife a widow and his children fatherless.

A classic example of the inherent contradictions is spelled out when the deputy governor himself tells John Proctor that if he admits his confession is a lie, it won’t hold up in court and his death warrant will be signed. Even when those who originally hollered for necks to be wrung see the madness of the situation and call for it to cease, the wheels are in motion and the paranoia of the moment cannot simply be reversed. How can a plaintiff, accused with no hard evidence, find evidence to defend himself?

Director Colin McColl has extracted strong, sincere characters from a superb, largely veteran cast. Peter Daube brings a distinctly kiwi hue to John Proctor, the straight-forward, unremarkable farmer struggling to defend himself in unstable circumstances. George Henare also gives an unadorned, touching performance as old man Giles. Hera Dunleavy plays an austere Elizabeth Proctor, the icy but noble wife. The perennial Raymond Hawthorne is ruthless in the role of Deputy Governor Danforth. Reverend Parris is played with fervour by Gareth Reeves.

Ellen Simpson embodies all of the calculated vindictiveness of Abigail, though she’s not quite convincing as the fiery young woman who could have caused Proctor to stray, more a deluded little girl. A promising Brooke Williams plays the more minor role of Mary Warren with subtlety and depth. Across the board the casting is spot-on and, with solid teamwork from cast and crew, the play is riveting and as relevant today as the day it opened in 1953.

David Eversfield’s lighting and Tracy Grant Lord’s set and costume design combine to summon a stark, eerie effect, maximising the subdued tension of Miller’s original vision. The slatted walls – which suggest weatherboards, or an animal pen into which people are herded and held in captivity – also allow some of the action to be visible behind the walls, expanding the sense of space. Trees suspended from the roof create an effective impression of dark forest – the threatening wildness of the natural world encroaching on the attempts of god-fearing men and women to control and contain invisible forces.

Haunting sound effects and starkly beautiful hymns (designed and directed by John Gibson) add to the sense of puritan repression but are also a backdrop hinting at the girl’s yearning for freedom. The costumes are mostly period, though some contemporary suits and ties, and some subtly inserted modern technology, successfully blur the boundaries, lifting the story from the confines of its 17th century setting. None of this, however, detracts in any way from the telling of the story.

Despite my initial trepidation that I’d leave the theatre feeling depressed and hopeless after such a bleak tale (which I studied to death in high school), this production reminds me that The Crucible is not only an important piece but one able to incite sympathy, outrage, despair, disbelief, compassion and resolve, in a somewhat cynical reviewer in a comfy seat in a nice warm theatre. By no means upbeat, it is undeniably provocative.

The Crucible is an eye-opening story, and this production has captured the heart and guts of Arthur Miller’s controversial play and brought it to life.


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