★★★★

I mentioned Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to some people. Some hadn’t seen a production of it so couldn’t comment. Some said they loved it. Others said they were dragged (figuratively speaking, presumably – I didn’t exactly set about cross-examining anyone on that point) to a performance and found themselves liking it. Others still were dragged along and hated it. More than one said they had been to various productions over the years and still struggled to get their head around it. It’s the sort of play that almost always provokes a strong reaction either way, and it’s rare for someone to respond with something like, “The Crucible? Yeah, it was all right.

It is, for anyone who has indeed struggled to fully understand it, worth reading the script, as Miller’s notes, sometimes running for a few paragraphs at a time, give much context, and were certainly very helpful to me reading them after the first time I encountered the play. That said, it isn’t strictly necessary in this production to do so, as the most salient points are projected for the audience to see. Some of the stage directions are not fully complied with in this slick production, so it is left to the audience to engage its imagination as best they can, while characters are introduced, sometimes with projected descriptions, providing appropriate background. The other way to do it, I suppose, would be to introduce a narrator character, but Miller never intended the play to be performed with one.

Set in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692-1693, a puritanical regime is in operation. Judge Danforth (a convincing, if bombastic, Jonathan Tafler) even goes ballistic when it is pointed out to him that some children, apparently led by Abigail Williams (Lucy Keirl) went dancing, which he seemed angrier about than the accusation that the said children were nude in a public place. The community’s bizarre and contradictory interpretations of Scripture have disillusioned John Proctor (Eoin Slattery) who has stopped attending Sunday worship services. The reality is even more ridiculous than Miller’s dramatized version of events – I was surprised to learn elsewhere, for instance, that dogs were hanged as well as people.

It’s always a good thing when a production of such a familiar play is able to bring something fresh to the table – or rather, the courthouse – and this one does not disappoint. The Reverend Parris (Cornelius Clarke) sounds like a certain current political leader in being far too hasty in wanting to bring virtually anyone and everyone to court, a marked contrast from the Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou), brought in by Parris to assist in the witch-hunt but ends up being the voice of reason in a most unjust set of trials.

The sound effects, I’m afraid, add nothing to proceedings, but take nothing away from them either, suitably unnerving as they are, though the strong script and equally strong cast had already established a palpably sinister atmosphere by the time the music started to swell. Francis Nurse (Paul Beech) and Giles Corey (David Delve), in conference with Proctor, are alarmed at the sudden arrest of so many locals, and it becomes unquestionably clear that in a world where the lunatics have taken over the running of the asylum that these civilised men and their folks are not going to fare well at all.

A scintillating and intense production, it retains, despite being set more than 300 years ago, a certain relevance today in its exploration of jumping to conclusions and certain people believing only what tickles their ears. Alternative facts, anyone?

Review by Chris Omaweng

This atmospheric staging of a theatre classic bringing together music and movement through an ever-present cast is directed by Douglas Rintoul, Artistic Director of the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, and is co-produced with Selladoor Productions, in association with Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg.

Charlie Condou as witch-hunter Reverend Hale (Coronation Street) and Victoria Yeates (Call The Midwife) as the falsely accused Elizabeth Proctor lead the cast in this bold new production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Set in a small 17th century New England town, a children’s game has terrifying consequences as allegations of witchcraft break out. Quickly caught up in an unstoppable flow of paranoia, accusation, and manipulation, the community is consumed by a climate of suspicion where no person is safe from its neighbour. In our current political crucible, Miller’s epic is a chilling reminder of the frailty of reason in the face of hysteria.

Cast also includes: Eoin Slattery, whose career includes roles at The National Theatre, The Royal Exchange Theatre and Hull Truck, as John Proctor and Lucy Keirl, who recently took the role of Juliet in The Watermill’s 2016 production of Romeo and Juliet, as Abigail Williams. Other cast members comprise, Paul Beech as Francis Nurse, David Delve as Giles Corey, Cornelius Clarke as Reverend Parris, Diana Yekinni as Tituba and Mercy Lewis, David Kirkbride as Ezekiel Cheever, Eleanor Montgomery as Ann Putnam and Susanna Walcott, Augustina Seymour as Mary Warren and Rebecca Nurse, Leona Allen as Betty Parris and Carl Patrick as Thomas Putnam and Marshall Herrick.

One of the twentieth century’s landmark dramas, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible stands as both a historical record and a political parable for our times. The unrelenting and violent witch-hunt, which was originally written as an allegory about the brutal reign McCarthyism, which swept across the political landscape of 1950s America, resonates into the present day as a stark and ferocious warning from the past.

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