You might agree with Reverend Hale when he says in Act II of The Crucible ‘This is a strange time‘. Written in the 1950s and referring to the 1690 Salem witch trials, these words might as well have been said today. Uncertainty caused by Brexit and the up-coming US Presidential election has made 2016 feel very strange indeed. The rise in so-called ‘hate crimes’, perhaps due to some gaining perverse permission to spread hysteria and fear are all themes that Miller writes about in his famous play which will be performed at The Minack next week. I met with Johanna Egar, who plays Elizabeth Proctor in The Cube Theatre production to find out more.
Johanna and I chatted over coffee and delicious cake at Zannah’s Time Cafe in Probus
Have you started rehearsing yet? (the cast were one week in when we chatted)
We’ve only just started three and a half weeks of quite intensive rehearsals. I’m excited to be in such a large cast with a wide range of experience. We’ve got professional actors with years of experience, students who are currently at drama school (who’ve bought loads of fresh ideas and energy) and also community actors.
What’s a ‘Community Actor’?
Basically, an actor who doesn’t perform for a living. Some of us, like me, are professionally trained actors who are now currently doing other jobs, some are people who have been performing for years as a hobby, but everybody in the show has a really good grounding in the Industry. (Johanna is a Drama and English Teacher at Truro School)
How are the rehearsals going?
They are going well. It’s a large company, about 40 in all, and we’re currently rehearsing at the Hall for Cornwall, who have been really welcoming. We’ve begun the process by finding out about the world of the play through workshop games and exercises. The play is all about a community which turns against itself and a recent den-building exercise, where each ‘group’ in the play had to build a den became surprisingly competitive very quickly, culminating in rather a lot of things being nicked from one another in our efforts to win the game!
How have you found the world of 1690?
It has really struck us, particularly on the read through – how current the whole thing feels. Even though Miller was referencing 1950s McCarthyism and the 1690s Salem witch hunts, it just feels very relevant to today. The way John and Elizabeth Proctor are incredulous at the events and keep believing that things won’t happen, but then they do feels frighteningly current. At its core, Miller is writing about suspicion, greed and desire for power.
Tell me about John and Elizabeth Proctor.
John and Elizabeth are the voice of sanity of the story. But they end up getting caught in something not of their own making from which they then can’t escape. They are good but flawed people in a world which has become hysterical. Nothing feels safe about their environment and there’s a lot of bitterness which ends up becoming a cloak for something quite threatening.
Have you played Elizabeth Proctor before?
No, I’ve always wanted to ever since I studied the text for my GCSEs and fell in love with the play. Her character has always fascinated me. She’s conflicted with strong principles, but lives in a world where they are not working.
What are the challenges of playing Elizabeth?
As an Actor it’s really challenging as she suppresses a lot of emotions, thinking that it’s the best way to keep peace and harmony. She’s a Puritan – a good and submissive wife – but every now and again she can’t help herself. In The Crucible, there’s no stepping off – once it starts it pushes on and the stakes get higher and higher all the time and there is no escape. I’ve never played a role where the trajectory is so relentless, so it is an exciting challenge exploring that!
Are you looking forward to playing at The Minack?
Yes I’m really excited, as I’ve never acted at The Minack before. It’s such a dramatic place, really elemental. Our director, Rosanna Elliott, is keen on exploiting the wildness of The Minack and the feeling of it being on the edge. Salem was a new village surrounded by wilderness and a constant threat from both wild animals and the displaced native Americans, so the Minack is perfect as a setting for that brutal and exposed environment; particularly if the weather is stormy!
Thank you Johanna for your time – I can’t wait to see the production, it feels as though it really is a play for our time.
The Crucible is on from 12-16th September and you can book tickets here
Thank you to Zannah for hosting our chat – the cakes and coffee were delicious, I’ll be back very shortly!