A play for today as much as it was for the day when it was written.
Douglas Rintoul’s production of this classic play grips like a vice, holding the attention of the audience throughout what can be a long and wordy evening. The performances are strong and Arthur Miller’s account of the hysteria which gripped Salem in 1692 and led to the infamous trial and execution of alleged witches is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it 1953. It’s aim then was to illuminate the evils of the Communist witch hunts led by Senator McCarthy. As the programme notes point out they started as the result of an Executive Order, something to ponder in the light of what is going on today in a world where fake facts are flung about like confetti and tweeted with abandon.
There is a handsome skeletal set by Anouk Schiltz which creates the world of Salem effectively, and the decision to play it in almost modern dress, but not quite, gives the necessary timeless feel. We are not in a world of people pretending to be 17th century settlers but in one where we might just be living.
Charlie Condou as Reverend Hale, the minister who comes to Salem to help find out why the daughter of the local priest, Reverend Paris, is in a coma is hugely impressive. His realisation of how wrong he has been is moving indeed. Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates are powerful and moving as the hapless Proctors, trapped in the accusations made by a group of sex starved adolescent girls found dancing in the woods that they had seen the devil.
In fact one of them Abigail, played to the life by Lucy Keirl, had a brief affair with Proctor, her employer, and cornered when their romps are discovered takes refuge in false accusations. Nobody is safe. Once the implacable Judge Danforth, a riveting Jonathan Tafler, arrives the fate of innocent people is sealed. The law is the law and must be obeyed. All the performances are good in a very strong cast, the message about how false accusations can be believed regardless of reality, about how paranoia can seize hold of a society and lead to neighbour accusing neighbour of imagined crimes comes over with great power. If it comes to a theatre near you – do not miss the chance to see it.