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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE CRUCIBLE (article first published : 2008-05-27)

‘I have given you my soul, leave me my name…” Striking words full of soul spoken by the character of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s award winning The Crucible. A crucible is a melting pot or vessel in which crude oil is heated to a temperature that makes it release the pure metal.

Running last week at The Courtyard Theatre, The Crucible was directed by Allen Auld and performed by the second-year drama students from The Department of Television, Drama and Production Studies at the Durban University of Technology. I was immersed into the world of suspicion and witchcraft; and was stirred by the sheer ‘passion for performance’ of those on stage and behind the scenes who evidently worked towards a successful rendition of this classic script.

Director Allen Auld certainly chose a play of great significance because, in a time of crisis, society antagonizes those who are least likely to defend themselves … a reflection of the current South African situation told through The Crucible.

Having gone with no expectations and witnessing the presentation in 21st century South Africa of a text that has achieved canonized status over the years, I came out pleasantly surprised. The text, extensive in its original form, was reduced with fundamental scenes presented in order to understand the primary story line.

It is undoubtedly difficult to wrap one’s 21st century ears and tongue around the language of the 17th century which is far from being identifiable to many local audiences. However, that is the joy of theatre: the ability to be part of one era, one mindset and to be allowed to journey (at least for an hour and a half) to another moment in time, which ironically seems to hold a mirror up to the present situations. The gap was effectively bridged.

An ‘acting’-driven piece, the cast had excellent comprehension of the text as deliveries were affluent and confident, an unmistakable mark of talented performers under invaluable direction. Performers identified with their respective characters; understood each word; and delivered with refreshing stage flair and genuine focus. I found the non-verbal performances particularly riveting as interest was never dropped due to lack of energy or passion. Vocally, voices were rich and strong … well warmed-up.

Costumes were identical, gender respective, with slight variations, which assisted the audience in understanding each character’s ‘spirit’. It was ‘simply’ stirring in choice of colours for costume; the predominant colours being red, white and black. Passion of character was expressed with spurts of red, against the plain white or black background. The use of black and white with its connotations of evil and good, respectively, added to the interestingly ‘unbalanced’ atmosphere of the play.

Thobani Mbhele portrayed John Proctor with ease and sincerity in a passionate performance. The manner was impressive in which he helped bring the American script into a South African context by being an African man in ‘presence’ and John Proctor in ‘spirit’. Sanelisiwe Dlamini brought a fresh energy to the stage and it was intriguing to watch her emotive eyes as the character of Mary Warren requires her to be off-centre most of the time …a character that she pulls off with admirable skill. Bonga Tutshana played the calm self-assured Judge Hathorne who rules over proceedings concerning the accused in the Salem Witch Hunts amidst the frenzy around him. Bringing a stimulating finesse to the role, he presented such a credible character that I felt as if I was watching a live court proceeding.

With notable skill, Nolulamo Maquthu ardently presented Mrs. Proctor, the loyal wife and mother who worries about the breakdown of her household, which reflects the malicious breakdown of the society around her that is plagued by witchcraft. Knowing the source of the maliciousness (Abigail Williams, played by Prudence Radebe) does not give her the ability to sway events in her family’s favour and it is her loyalty to her adulterous husband that in the end loses her the opportunity to save his life.

Other performances worthy of mention came from Lerato Mafatle (Tituba), a heartfelt rendition of a woman of slavery with no power; Rebecca Nurse (Mandisa Tshiqi), with the calm, reasonable voice of the elderly; Wonderboy Kakole (Marshal Herrick), an entertaining element in the midst of the drama, he possess a good comic energy on stage at times, yet did not draw focus away from the tragedy befalling the characters around him, and Musa Khuzwayo (Reverend Paris), a strong stage presence and unique characterization of the Reverend.

The Crucible presents a town off-balance, with ‘whisperings’ of witchcraft and an urgency for peace and restoration. The unrest, fear, suspicion, and accusation - all under the dark veil of outlawed witchcraft - was almost tangible.

With young artists participating in the creation of theatre pieces such as this one, my faith in the ability of theatre to entertain, inform, reflect and educate is reaffirmed. It is a successful relevant piece of art that definitely had me leaving the theatre reflecting and searching for answers to the many crises we currently face on a personal and political level in South Africa. – Shika Budhoo




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