Well there’s no shortage of thrills while watching the Queen’s Theatre presentation of Sell A Door’s touring production of The Crucible, a tense and gripping story from the pen of American playwright Arthur Miller, about the hysteria surrounding the Salem witch trials of the late 1600’s. Miller wrote it as an allegory for McCarthyism following his own brush with communism in the 1950’s, and is part fact and part fiction. It stars TV’s Charlie Condou (Coronation Street), and Victoria Yeates (Call the Midwife), and is directed by Douglas Rintoul.
It is set in an English colony in Massachusetts Bay in the year 1692 and is told in four acts. The tale begins at the bedside of 10-year-old Betty Parris who is lying unconscious following some mysterious goings on in the local woods. She is the daughter of the deeply religious Reverend Samuel Parris, and he has witnessed young Betty and her group of girl-friends apparently dancing provocatively among the trees. His niece, Abigail Williams, appears to be the ringleader of the group, a young woman who seeks to make mischief for local farmer John Proctor to whom she has made advances, and has been rejected. Abigail’s frivolous behaviour understandably upsets Proctor’s pregnant wife Elizabeth, who has doubts about her husband’s fidelity. A small doll which resembles an effigy, is then found in the Proctor home. Is this an innocent mistake made by the Proctor’s maid Mary who might have left it there? She is one of the group of alleged witches so it might be symbolic of something far more sinister. The arrival of Reverend John Hale, a young minister known for his ‘knowledge’ of witches and witchcraft, uses his status to commit to trial anyone who might fit the bill, while fueling the paranoia in a divisive and corrupt justice system, and a frightened community that seeks to rid itself of infidels. The suspicions fall on The Proctors and the accusations begin to fly. They find themselves bargaining for their very lives as they become inexorably drawn in to an intense drama of love, betrayal, and sacrifice.
Rintoul uses the original stage direction in a neat way, the words projected on a high section of the minimalist sets, highlighting each location and identifying key players in the proceedings. The sets themselves are very stark, consisting mainly of just three plain walls and a central wooden platform that can rotate. Scene changes are effected without the curtain falling, with the words ‘curtain falls’ simply projected for the audience to see. Such minimalism allows the audience to focus fully on the actors. The music is dark and atmospheric.
Eoin Slattery is ably cast as the protagonist John Proctor and delivers a charged performance, while Lucy Keirl is wonderful as the main antagonist – Abigail Williams. Cornelius Clarke is suitably fiery as Reverend Parris which helps greatly in the first act as some of the audio early on is difficult to hear. Charlie Condou plays the initially unsympathetic Reverend Hale, who’s disillusionment with the abuses of the court clearly affecting him personally, making him change his stance midway through. Victoria Yeates is a pleasure to watch as the strong-willed Elizabeth Proctor, wife of John who vigorously stands her ground following the accusations of witchcraft that are made against her.
10 out of 10 for this stylish presentation of the classic drama that has lost none of its edge since it first appeared on Broadway in 1953, and continuing the tradition of fine quality theatre in Hornchurch at the Queen’s. Hurry though! The show runs until 11th March.
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