The world has gone mad in The Crucible, with the trial and execution of hapless citizens accused of witchcraft in late 17th century New England.
But it’s gone mad so many times since, that it’s no surprise Arthur Miller himself observed his most frequently performed play was something that ‘probably and unfortunately is not going to be overwhelmed with irrelevance too soon’.
In Douglas Rintoul’s gripping production, the escalating horror and disbelief at unfolding events is built with careful precision. It’s punctuated with stage directions projected onto the set, a device which works not only to set the scene, but to give pin-sharp character summaries as key figures enter the action.
Lucy Keirl is a subtle, scheming Abigail, the only one to leave the devastation relatively unscathed, as she eventually skips off with a bag of cash and a ticket to ride.
Yet it’s clear she had good reason to expect more of John Proctor, who is superbly played with complete conviction by Eoin Slattery. Victoria Yeates brings a gentle, unshakeable dignity to Elizabeth Proctor, the blameless wife whose arrest confirms that Salem really is turning upside down.
Charlie Condou brings a burning intensity and integrity to Reverend Hale, the deeply committed priest whose fervour is gradually quenched by the evident injustice of the proceedings, when even having a doll in the house is enough to get you hanged.
Ghastly, self-serving Reverend Parris – who spies on girls dancing in the woods – is carefully judged with strutting arrogance by Cornelius Clarke, and Diana Yekinni produces one of the play’s most spine-tingling moments with Tituba’s ‘confession’.
There are occasional problems with audibility among the cast, but none from Jonathan Tafler, who creates a ruthless, roaring vigilante in Judge Danforth.
Designer Anouk Schiltz’s set uses the full height of the theatre to great effect, while Chris Davy’s lighting is crucial in creating the sinister changes of mood that accompany the play’s denunciations and betrayals. Sound designer Adrienne Quartly also contributes an uneasy undercurrent with her unsettling score.
Arthur Miller was himself a victim of the twentieth century witch-hunt, otherwise known as the anti-communist crusade led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. His ruthless House Un-American Activities Committee wrecked the lives and careers of hundreds of US citizens in the ’50s, and Miller’s play was a direct response to its injustice.
The Crucible remains just as relevant, and just as shocking today – just as Miller suspected it would.