The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller in 1953, fictionalised the Salem witch trials that took place in 17th century America. It resonated the ‘witch hunt’ for communists during McCarthian America when Miller wrote the play but, with its exploration of mass hysteria, it is as contemporary a topic now as it was then.
Director Yaël Farber put her stamp on a raw and rousing production which is minimal in its staging yet all the more intense for it. There is an ominous feeling that stirs deep in your bones as the ritualistic chanting of Tituba echoes in the opening of the play. It is a greatly atmospheric play and the experience of seeing it screened offers a whole new perspective – it allows the audience to see every action and every emotion painting on the actors’ faces up close. It’s both immersive and uncomfortable at times – the kind of play that doesn’t leave you unaffected.
A child lies in bed, bewitched. Her father, Reverend Parris, fears repercussions on his family. The rumours about witchcraft have already spread. Reverend Hale is called to examine the child and look for signs of the devil. Amongst the ringleaders who brings up lurid allegations of dealings with the dark forces is Abigail Williams. We learn that she had a brief affair with farmer John Proctor whilst under his wife’s employment. It was but one night and whereas John shamefully cut any contact with the girl, she promised revenge on his wife. It’s the beginning of a relentless descent into general psychosis. A children’s lie is all it takes for the community of Salem to be stirred upside down. Split into four acts, there is hardly a moment to breath as one action escalates into religious fundamentalism in the blink of an eye. First there are accusations, eventually trials and not before long people are being hanged.
Richard Armitage stars in the role of John Proctor, the flawed but proud farmer, and brings him to life with raw fury. The sense of guilt weighs on every word he speaks – the air is burning every time he is in the scene. Anna Madeley beautifully plays wife Elizabeth leading to a powerful and heart-wrenching reconciliation between husband and wife at the end of the play. The cast shines with the young Samantha Colley as the malicious and foreboding Abigail, and Natalie Gavin’s wrenching performance as Mary Warren, who is torn between truth and lies. William Gaunt plays Giles Corey, whose wife Martha is executed on the base of false accusations – his portrayal of grief and endurance is extremely moving. All performances, big and small, left their mark on this masterful production – Jack Ellis, Ann Firbank, Sarah Niles, Adrian Schiller, Neil Salvage, Michael Thomas and the teenage girls ensemble.
Masterfully lit with nightmarish shadowy lighting, “The Crucible” tears and rips into the very essence of its characters, leaving them bare and raw in front of the breathless audience. It’s powerful acting you don’t see often and Miller’s drama is as compelling now as it was then.
The Old Vic’s “The Crucible” is screening in cinemas across the UK and Ireland – to find a cinema near you visit: http://cinemalive.com/index.php?p=view&id=144/