The Crucible

Posted on: 11 August 2014 by Olderiswiser Editorial

Laurence Green reviews the gripping revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible

The Crucible

It is not often that you find an evening in the theatre so devastating that you emerge speechless but this is indeed the case with South African director Yael Farber’s superb revival of Arthur Miller’s great 1953 play the crucible (Old Vic).

 Miller’s account of the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1690’s was inspired by the paranoia about the communists whipped up by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the investigations of the Un-American activities committee which scarred the country in the 1950s.

In a small tight knit community personal grievances collide with lust and superstition fuelling widespread hysteria when a group of girls under the malign spell of their ringleader, Abigail Williams accuse countless decent people in the village of witch craft. Abigail was bent on revenge after being dismissed from the household of a farmer John Proctor by his wife Elizabeth after she discovered the farmer servant had seduced her husband, who had also denounced her as a whore and she pursue her chilling plan with cool ingenuity, setting in motion what turns out to be a living nightmare.

Miller’s timeless parable which attacks the evils of mindless persecutions and terrifying power of false accusations seems particularly relevant today in warning of religious fundamentalism and the mindset of those who believe they should kill in the name of God. Farber makes the play feel urgent and immediate by refusing to hurry so the piece builds up enormous power as the story progresses and the lies of the girls proliferate.

 There are many memorable scene such as the anguish of John Proctor’s attempt to falsely confess witchcraft to save his life, the tenderness of the valedictory scene with his wife, Elizabeth and especially the gripping courtroom scene when the girls are called before the judge, their mock possession, screeching and howling, shaking their long hair and writhing on the floor, truly frightening.

Tim Lutkin’s shadowy lighting, Soutra Glimour’s spare set and Richard Hammarton’s brooding sound combine to create the dread of a bad dream, never more so than when ash tumbles onto the stage like black snow, while the staging in the round enhances the sense of intimacy.

But it is the superb performances that really set the drama alight. Richard Armitage, excellent as the fierce and earthy John Proctor with matted shoulder length hair, at first smoulders and later blazes raging against the paranoid insanity that engulfs him – and also  his own fallibility, while Anna Maceley brings a tender restraint to the role of his wife, Elizabeth, capturing her wounded sense of virtue. Samantha Colley is particularly outstanding as the scheming, spurned Abigail and Jack Ellis believes a sinister tour de force as the chief witch hunter. Natalie Gavin makes a strong impression as the terrified Mary Warren as she desperately tries to tell the truth and Adrian Schiller movingly conveys the crisis of conscience of the reverend John Hale who realises a terrible travesty of justice has been committed.

An absorbing, stunning production that both .... the mind and stirs the heart. Highly recommended!

Runs until September 13th

Box office: 0844 871 7628

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