Bella Vista Farm, Baulkham Hills, December 13
The historic barn at Bella Vista Farm makes an atmospheric, rustic setting for Sport for Jove’s powerful production of Arthur Miller’s classic play.
Set in the repressive, Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts during the 1692 witch-hunt, the play was Miller’s horrified response to Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade in 1950s America.
A number of young women have been spotted dancing naked in the woods. In order to protect themselves from certain punishment, they point the finger at others, suggesting witchcraft at work. As accusations lead to more and more hangings, other motives come into play including jealousy and revenge.
Damien Ryan keeps the play in the 17th century but under his clear, beautifully measured direction the themes of fear-mongering, hysteria, sexual repression and a community turning on itself strike strong chords in today’s world.
Ryan and designer Anna Gardiner create a pressure-cooker environment with the audience close to the action, seated on three sides around a dimly lit central wooden stage lined with hundreds of candles in jam jars (lighting by Sian James-Holland). A hanging platform is cleverly used as a bed, dining table and courtroom seating. Gardiner’s dark costuming is also very effective.
Julian Garner leads a solid ensemble cast of 20 as flawed hero John Proctor, conveying an intelligent, decent man who frequently flares with fiery impatience, while also struggling with the guilt that wracks him having had a fling with Abigail while his wife Elizabeth was sick.
Georgia Adamson is compelling and touching as the deeply honest Elizabeth, imbuing her with more warmth than she is frequently portrayed. Lizzie Schebesta plays Abigail, the ringleader of the girls, as a wilful, calculating flirt, lapping up the sudden attention and power.
There are also standout performances from Matilda Ridgway as Mary Warren, who now works for the Proctors in the wake of Abigail’s dismissal and, while becoming quite a little Madam, finds herself caught between strong opposing forces, Philip Dodd as the pompous, hard-line Judge Danforth and Anthony Gooley as the more reasonable, well-meaning Reverend Hale.
The decision to lead the audience out of the barn for the final scenes dissipates the tension somewhat, but overall Ryan helms a beautifully wrought, thought-provoking and harrowing production.
Bella Vista Farm, Baulkham Hills until December 30, Everglades Gardens, Leura, January 11 – 25. Information and bookings: www.sportforjove.com.au
A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on December 21