August 4, 2019
In Helen Pickett’s stunning adaption of The Crucible, we follow both the subtle and seismic shifts in one couple’s relationship as a town undergoes an irreversible transformation. Scottish Ballet’s production is bold in scope, with sharp scenic design, a compelling score and superb dancing, without losing sight of the very real human cost at its centre.
Pickett’s choreography, in collaboration with artistic collaborator James Bonas, crucially starts with young orphaned and unmarried Abigail (Constance Devernay), who frames the ensuing narrative through her situation and her desires. Childish and manipulative, she latches onto John Proctor (Nicholas Shoesmith), who feels excluded from the bond between his wife and their new born child. John and Abigail’s duet of passion is skilfully done: organic, intimate and building in passion, without becoming gratuitous.
Each duet between husband and wife advances the story, and knits a complex web of emotions. A later reconciliation scene sees Elizabeth (Araminta Wraith) struggle with her conflicting emotions of hurt, love and anger. It’s a deftly choreographed sequence of sharp changes and longing reaches.
Pickett is just as confident configuring complex group choreographies. As the town picks up on and manipulates the girls’ possessions, promises are betrayed and victims are tied up, all while the Men of God ominously carve up the space at will. It’s busy without ever being confusing.
With the wings pulled up, exposing the rigging to the side, the grand Playhouse stage is beautifully and crisply set by Emma Kingsbury (set and costumes) and David Finn (set and lighting). There is no waste in any element, an uncompromising cross often illuminating the floor as a constant reminder of the town’s submission to its religious orders. In some scenes, a thin veil divides the Proctors from their servants. It’s a nuanced yet pointed highlight of the domestic divides and repressions that characterises the girls’ need for attention. Peter Salem’s score is a gothic mix of fluttering wings, pining strings and glitching electronic sounds.
As John and the townspeople seal their fate, a final clang sounds out over the sudden cut to black. It’s a shuddering moment, making you realise the fragile and tense state you have been in for the ballet’s duration.
Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible is a rare thing: brave and innovative, while never forsaking the act of storytelling.