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The Good John Proctor at Jermyn Street Theatre

I’m still not entirely sure why this show is called The Good John Proctor – Proctor is very much an off-stage character, name-dropped only on occasion. By the closing moments of the show, Mercy Lewis (Amber Sylvia Edwards) won’t even hear the name John Proctor mentioned in her presence, displaying bitterness and unforgiveness towards him with vehemence. It’s the kind of anger and dramatic tension that much of the rest of the show lacks considerably. What little discussion there is of John Proctor – suspending disbelief, and all previous knowledge of the Arthur Miller play The Crucible, in which Proctor features prominently – leaves the audience to conclude that whatever he was, he wasn’t exactly ‘good’.

Amber Sylvia Edwards in The Good John Proctor at Jermyn Street Theatre, photo by Jack Sain.
Amber Sylvia Edwards in The Good John Proctor at Jermyn Street Theatre, photo by Jack Sain.

Abigail Williams (Anna Fordham) and Betty Parris (Sabrina Wu) are best friends, who share a room in the Parris family home, and always seem more than a little wary of Betty’s parents overhearing them or otherwise becoming aware of their activities. No, the play does not suggest Williams and Parris are in a relationship. What it does assert is, up until a night-time encounter in the woods with Mary Warren (Lydia Larson), their conversations and playtime games were innocent, even juvenile – a point laboriously made via extended roleplays with dolls (centuries before Barbie, of course) and another in which Williams played a king (with neither sceptre, orb nor crown), leaving Parris to play a lowly but loyal subject. It’s as interesting as I’m making it sound.

Very well, the audience is spared the court proceedings of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, with its various cross-examinations of witnesses. But aside from the bizarre beliefs of Lewis, who sees the work of ‘Satan’ absolutely everywhere (how is it, as Williams deduces, does she (Lewis) have such detailed familiarity with what supposedly evil spirits get up to?), the relative normality of conversations between youngsters doesn’t exactly make for riveting theatre.

From time to time, there are some astute observations, such as Warren directly addressing the audience – and The Crucible – expressing a degree of astonishment at how, beyond the grave, she has been portrayed by so many actors over the years and decades, in different continents and in different languages. The characters’ vocabulary switches between the sort of speech people might have deployed in the late seventeenth century and more up-to-date vernacular. The latter doesn’t quite work, especially when it comes to swearing, if only because rather more imaginative vocabulary is likely to have been used at the time.

Natalie Johnson’s set design works well, particularly as the show is set in various locations, both in and out of doors. At close to 100 minutes, however, the evening felt considerably longer. By contrast, a production of The Crucible would typically come close to a three-hour running time, if not slightly more than that, but the best ones I’ve seen over the years felt shorter. It doesn’t help that there are pauses and silences that go on a bit too long. I struggled to maintain interest in this meandering and bland production.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Salem. 1691.
It’s one year before the witch trials begin. Betty Parris and Abigail Williams’ adolescent world is full of sin and suspicion. Satan is everywhere – in their friends’ homes, in the poppets they play with, and in the woods which they certainly won’t enter. Their New England world is turned upside down when Abigail starts working for a local farmer, John Proctor…

FOOTPRINTS FESTIVAL
The Good John Proctor
BY TALENE MONAHON.
DIRECTED BY ANNA RYDER.
10 JANUARY – 27 JANUARY 2024
https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

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