The Good John Proctor review – Jermyn Street Theatre

Lydia Larson in The Good John Proctor. Photo: Jack Sain

Talene Monahon’s play follows ten-year-old Betty Parris (Sabrina Wu) and Abigail Williams (Anna Fordham), who is almost twelve, and the events of their lives in the year running up to the events of Arthur Miller’s 1953 modern classic, The Crucible, and their interactions with other girls in their close-knit community, the older fifteen-year-old Mercy (Amber Sylvia Edwards) and the newly arrived, and possibly-eighteen-year-old, Mary Warren (Lydia Larson).

Oddly, given his inclusion in the play’s title, John Proctor is almost entirely absent from the play; he does not appear on stage and is rarely mentioned other than in surface-level references. Yes, Abigail’s time working for the Proctor family significantly impacts the play’s outcome, but the relationship isn’t unpicked anymore than Betty’s relationship with her father, the Reverend Parris, Mary’s relationship with her Mother or Mercy’s complicated life with her employers.

Anna Ryder‘s production, which opens Jermyn Street Theatre’s Footprints Festival, leans heavily on previous knowledge of the events of Miller’s play – Abigail’s relationship with John Proctor being just one example. Though she seems to be attempting to recast the girl’s stories – here they are their actual ages whereas Abigail was seventeen in Miller’s play – Monahon writes very much within the context of The Crucible, rather than the actual events of the Salem Witch Trials it portrays. Those with no knowledge of The Crucible may find themselves confused by the meaning of certain events and tropes.

Anna Fordham and Sabrina Wu. Photo: Jack Sain

Monahon’s language jars slightly as it moves between the language of the period and modern language; Mercy greets her friends with ‘Hey bitches’ and Abigail tells Mercy that she’s ’pretty chill’ about her situation. The duality also creates issues with one of the play’s central plot points, with Abigail and Betty both unaware of periods but seemingly fully aware of a variety of sexual acts, including manual intercourse. Monahon’s girls walk a contradictory tightrope throughout.

There is always a challenge in adult actors playing children but Ryder and the cast manage to create an environment where we can, for the most part, suspend our disbelief. Wu in particular is excellent as the wide-eyed and impressionable Betty, and Edwards brings incredible life and character to Mercy.

Natalie Johnson’s set wonderfully evokes the period, while Bella Kear’s sound design, full of exhaled breaths and low hums, and Laura Howard’s low lighting add tension to the play’s climax, drawing you in as the girls find themselves in a moment that will define their future and the future of their community. It’s excellently directed, acted and designed but ultimately it’s style over substance, with Monahon struggling to make sense of the play’s themes within the context of her play and without the context of Miller’s – it lives in the shadow of The Crucible.

The Good John Proctor is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 27 January

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