AT a time when society is finding it increasingly difficult to tell apart accounts of fact and fiction, there could be no better time for Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch to stage a production of Arthur Miller’s 20th Century classic, The Crucible.
The play tells the story of the 1692 Salem witch trials, and how the baseless accusations of a group of young girls for their own benefit tears a community apart.
Directed by Queen’s artistic director Douglas Rintoul, the play sticks to the basic four act structure of the 1953 original, and Rintoul uses an incredibly simple set to eliminate any distractions from the dialogue-heavy script.
At three hours long (including a 20 minute interval) the production could easily lose the audience, but the set, in combination with a number of intense performances, keep the play alive from start to finish.
Coronation Street actor Charlie Condou and Call the Midwife’s Victoria Yeates are the big names on the poster outside the theatre, and they effectively represent the turmoil Reverend Hale and Elizabeth Proctor go through. But the real stars of the show are Lucy Keirl as a demonic Abigail Williams and Eoin Slattery as the torn John Proctor, who both thrive individually and in partnership as the antithesis of each other.
Having previously studied the text at school, I thought I was familiar with the simple court-based accuser vs accused scenario, but seeing the play performed before my eyes, I was shocked by how dramatic almost every interaction in the production felt.
Indeed at times it felt like the actors were taking part in a game of who could shout the loudest, and it’s not always an enjoyable watch, but at no point does the production fall into a lull or bore the audience, and in a three hour show of just four scenes, that is impressive.
Much of this achievement is down to Miller’s intelligent dialogue, which effectively conveys the trapped positions that the accused characters find themselves in.
When Miller unveiled the play it was created as an allegory for McCarthyism is 1950s America, and the ‘witch hunt’ to uncover communists.
Therefore, this is not a light play where they all live happily ever after and the force of the play demands the audience’s total attention and concentration. But the deeper question of how one responds to being pressured into accepting a lie for one’s own protection creates more profound meaning to the play.
The relevance of this message cannot be lost on the audience of today, showing how whether it be 17th Century Salem or the modern day world we live in today, determining fact from the fiction of a particular agenda may be a predicament humankind will never be rid of.
The Crucible plays at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, until 11 March. For a full list of performances or to book tickets visit http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk