mon 17/06/2024

The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre review - outstanding National Theatre transfer | reviews, news & interviews

The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre review - outstanding National Theatre transfer

The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre review - outstanding National Theatre transfer

Arthur Miller’s 1953 play is as compelling as ever in Lyndsey Turner’s production

Truth will not out: Abigail (Milly Alcock) resists the pleas of John Proctor (Brian Gleeson) to confessBrinkhoff-Moegenburg

Whining Donald Trump and snivelling Boris Johnson claim that they are victims of witch-hunts, although all the evidence suggests otherwise. In 1953, haunted by the iniquitous McCarthy trials that were designed to purge the US of communism, Arthur Miller turned to a real travesty, that of the Salem witch-hunt of 1692.

Loosely based on an event which saw 14 women, five men and, yes, two dogs hanged, the play is an attack on the disastrous consequences when a community becomes fanatically gripped by a lie and descends into a post-truth world of false accusations, vengeance, and torture.

Miller’s piece is a sturdy vehicle, which grips through the power of its storytelling and doesn’t need any directorial flourishes. Transferring from the National Theatre, Lyndsey Turner’s absorbing production succeeds triumphantly. Only the interpolated background information at the beginning is unnecessary and at odds with the style of the rest.

The Salem residents are the descendants of those who fled England in order to practice their own religion. Their search for freedom of worship doesn’t stop the all-powerful church from preventing the free expression of others. A group of young girls are caught dancing and conjuring spells in the woods. In order to escape punishment, they claim that God has called upon them to strike out witchery in others. In particular, Abigail seeks vengeance on Elizabeth Proctor who drove her out of the house on discovering that she and her husband, John, had lain together. Others seek to benefit from the trials, reliving old grievances and accusing their enemies of being possessed by the devil in order to seize their lands.Fisayo Akinade as Reverend John Hale in The CrucibleMiller was particularly incensed by the fact that his friend and colleague Elia Kazan had accused their mutual friends of being communist sympathisers. Kazan’s crime of naming names is reflected in John Proctor’s conflict between signing a confession for a crime he hasn’t committed and saving his skin; or refusing to sign to save his honour.

Es Devlin’s painterly design reflects the simplicity of the village’s way of life. In her one extravagant gesture, a cooling sheet of rain pours down at the front of the stage between the acts. Tim Lutkin’s lighting provides plenty of atmosphere. The gloom of the stage is pierced by candlelight, and an amber-lit, sloping roof creates a profound sense of claustrophobia. At the back, a stunning series of chiaroscuro tableaux, often of the all-powerful girls, illuminates the scenes played out in front of them. The women wear the long skirts of the period, while the farmers are dressed in jackets and trousers that wouldn’t look out of place in the fields today. Such a mélange is less obtrusive than one might expect. The girls’ youth is emphasised by their ridiculous pinafores. They hardly look capable of causing the deaths of others.

The performances are gripping. Brian Gleeson is one of three new cast members, alongside Milly Alcock as Abigail and Caitlin FitzGerald as Elizabeth. Gleeson plays John Proctor, a plain-talking, troubled farmer, whose shoulders gradually bend with the weight of trying to inject common sense into madness. Fisayo Akinade (pictured above) is particularly impressive as the Reverend John Hale, whose confidence in his own righteousness is slowly undermined as he observes the hell that he has helped unleash. In contrast, as the self-serving, covetous Reverend Parris, Nick Fletcher is shiftily keen to see the back of any opposition. Matthew Marsh as the Deputy Governor stubbornly clings to the rule of law as he allows good people to be executed.

The Crucible is not just a moral tale. In contrast with the story of good people being destroyed by lies and religious fanaticism, there is also the portrait of a troubled marriage, that of John and Elizabeth Proctor. He seeks forgiveness for his adultery from his wife. Caitlin Fitzgerald’s tall, upright Elizabeth struggles to accommodate her husband’s sin. When asked to state the 10 commandments, somehow “Thou shalt not commit adultery” slips his mind. But at the end, it is the pious Elizabeth who admits that she kept “a cold house”.

In our very different times, Miller’s lack of sympathy for Abigail is striking. She is, after all, a girl of just 17, who has been abused by her employer and sacked by his wife. While Alcock doesn’t hold back on Abigail’s manipulative, vengeful behaviour, she also reveals her to be devastated by John’s rejection, secretly holding hands with Mercy as she stands firm in the court room.

Miller’s piece is a sturdy vehicle, which grips through the power of its storytelling


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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