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The Good John Proctor (Susan Elkin reviews)

3 stars

Part of Jermyn Street’s Footprints season, The Good John Proctor is a thoughtful, powerfully acted and imaginatively directed (Anna Ryder) prequel to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It did well in New York and this is the first time Monahon’s play has been seen in the UK.

It’s an interesting idea but my reservation is that if you don’t know The Crucible  – or haven’t read up on the well documented history of the late 17th century Salem witch hunts and executions –  you won’t have a clue what was going on. It was all right for me. I used to teach The Crucible to GCSE classes but otherwise …

Abigail Williams (Anna Fordham) and her younger cousin Betty Parris (Sabina Wu) are at the heart of this story, living as they do with Betty’s parents. Mercy Lewis (Amber Sylvia Edwards) , a bit older and a real stirrer, often drops in and later Mary Warren who at 18 is the oldest of the four, moves to Salem and gets to know the others.

There’s much giggling and frightening each other with stories of witches and possession along with Abigail’s first period and much fear, naivity and egging each other on  – all accompanied by Bella Kear’s rather effective, creepy sound track which seems to be all round Jermyn Street’s tiny auditorium.  Then Abigail gets a job and we can see that she’s rapidly developing an inappropriate relationship with her boss – this, of course, is the titular John Proctor but you need to know your Arthur Miller to realise that. Eventually the girls swim naked or partly so in the wood and are spotted indulging in “Satanic” behaviour.  And Abigail has been sacked by Proctor’s wife so she gets her own back by testifying against them – but you have to infer that. The prologue in which Betty, Mercy and Mary look back years later is a good narrative idea but you still have to do a lot of deducing.

Fordham’s Abigail is domineering yet vulnerable and you can almost see the adolescent hormones kicking in. It’s a strong performance. The hint that Abigail is pregnant is not satisfactorily developed, though. Wu is delightful as Betty – childish but sometimes knowing. She has a real talent for visible listening and reacting too. Edwards makes Mercy a knowing – but ignorant – young woman who uses language that would get her whipped if grown ups heard her and her acting is totally convincing. Mary is an otherworldly woman who has fits and long dreamy thoughts. Larson is well cast in the role. And the four actors work pleasingly together.

It’s an entertaining 100 minutes of uninterrupted theatre but it doesn’t work as a standalone so it’s not exactly inclusive.

First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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