Salem, Massachusetts, 1692
The challenge of taking on a wicked, manipulative character appealed to Bo Jarratt while the unpredictable nature of performing live theatre drew Lawrence Mulligan back to the stage. Now in rehearsal for Unity Theatre’s upcoming production, The Crucible, the two actors share insights into their roles.
Following her performance as a sweet rose with a soul of fire in Unity Theatre’s 2019 production of Romeo and Juliet, actor Bo Jarratt has gone to the dark side.
She has taken on a role in the Norman Maclean-directed production of The Crucible that is the complete opposite of Juliet who Romeo described as “a white dove among crows”.
As Abigail, Bo’s character is closer to that of a crow.
“She’s a wicked piece of work,” says Jarratt.
“She’s horrible, she’s manipulative and she plays the victim when she needs to.”
In Arthur Miller’s 1953 drama, Abigail is the apparent ringleader of a group of girls discovered dancing naked in the forest and engaged in some sort of pagan ritual. Rumours of witchcraft have spread through the village.
Shunned by villagers for her adulterous affair with John Proctor, Abigail’s infatuation with the farmer propels her into manipulation of townsfolk.
The Crucible takes as its theme the notorious witchcraft mania that swept Massachusetts in 1692, says Maclean. The delusion began in Salem Village where 19 innocent people were executed for supposedly trafficking with demons.
“Malice, superstition, petty rivalries and hysteria accounted for accusations and condemnations in a society that was haunted by sin and satanic influences.”
All the girls seen with Abigail are terrified of her, says Jarratt.
“In court Abigail plays the innocent; she manipulates the other girls. The other girls do what she tells them. They’re too scared to go against her. When she’s pointing out people she blames for witchcraft, she breaks down. She’s putting it on, but because the girls wind themselves up, they get in deep and it gets so real they start to believe it.”
Watchful Abigail picks up on everything people are doing, says Jarratt.
“Her first victim is Tituba.”
From Barbados, Tituba, the Reverend Parris’s slave, practises what the Puritans view as black magic. Abigail and the other girls claim to have seen her “with the Devil”.
“When Abigail realises Tituba is confused, and people say ‘we can save you’, she picks up on how they react. She’s watching it all as it happens.”
Abigail is a very different role from that of Juliet, says Jarratt. The ability to draw on how she could romantically love someone made the role of the Verona teen easier to play.
“I’ve never played an evil, manipulative character before. I wanted to challenge myself. When I told Norman I wanted to audition for the part of Abigail I think he was slightly shocked.
“I love the role, I get to stare people down. I put myself in Abigail’s shoes and watch them. As soon as I walk on stage I separate myself from Bo Jarratt and become Abigail.”
The unpredictable nature of live theatre, the moment by moment experience of it, and the satisfaction of playing a character as truthfully as possible is what drove Lawrence Mulligan back to the stage.
“I enjoy the performance,” he says.
“I don’t enjoy the attention.”
Cast as John Proctor in Unity Theatre’s upcoming production of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, Mulligan is almost as tormented as his character when it comes to subjecting himself to an interview. But he is drawn back to the stage and this time his character is entangled with Abigail (Bo Jarratt) in Miller’s dramatisation of the story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692–93.
When John Proctor confronts Abigail, who harbours feelings for the farmer, she tells him she and the girls were not performing witchcraft. Proctor later has the opportunity to tell the court Abigail and the other girls were pretending to be involved in witchcraft, but here his inner conflict comes into play.
The fate of Game of Thrones’ Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark played by Sean Bean, and that of John Proctor, might not have been Mulligan’s main motivation to pursue the role, but the parallel between the two characters did appeal to him.
It’s a nerdy and tragic parallel, he says, but both are men of honour who have lived morally upright lives while a single indiscretion led to their downfall.
Asked to write an outline of his character, Mulligan chose to compose an acrostic poem based on Proctor’s name.
P — polarising character.
R — respected
O — obstinate
C — cheated on his wife
T — taken to court
O — oh no, he won’t confess
R — redemption
And that’s about all we need to know about Mulligan’s Proctor for now, but not about Mulligan.
After about 20 years away from the stage, the former policeman and chef made his comeback with a fine portrayal of the world-weary, but slight dark-edged, friar in a Unity production of Romeo and Juliet, and as Porter Milgrim, a lugubrious Connecticut attorney, in Evolution Theatre Company’s Deathtrap and now as farmer John Proctor in the Norman Maclean-directed production of The Crucible.
Despite having the opportunity to study the play in his two seventh form years at Gisborne Boys’ High, Mulligan’s extra-curricular distractions meant he didn’t.
During auditions for The Crucible, he targeted the part of John Proctor but during rehearsals found he had scant idea of the play.
“When I read the dialogue and thought about the subtext I felt bad about what 16-year-old Lawrence had been doing.
“At school, I was sifting around the music room, listening to ‘90s music. Then Norman got me on stage as an extra in Tom Jones, a school production. It was a good, creative outlet.”
Mulligan’s re-engagement with theatre, and with The Crucible, particularly, is a salute to Maclean.
“I stepped back from performing 20 years ago and didn’t look back,” he says.
“Norman looked under the rock, saw me, and pulled me out.