4 / 5
There is no colour or elaborate stage dressing on the set of The Crucible to detract from the sheer power of the story that unfolds in front of you. Written in 1953 The Crucible was Arthur Miller’s response to the society in which he was living. The political backdrop of American politics at the time was that of the ‘witch hunt’ for enemies of the state, Russian activists and sympathisers. It became difficult for people to exercise freedom of speech and expression without placing themselves in the spotlight for the scrutiny of the state and this was across the whole of society irrespective of gender, race, background, social standing or occupation.
Miller decided to use his skill and talent to address the political turmoil around him and unable to express the current situation he set his play in the 17th Century, a clear lesson from history from which we should take heed. The Crucible, is the dramatisation of the Salem Witch Trials (c.1692). The story centres around a relative new comer to the community, Rev. Parris, his daughter and niece and a group of young girls who form the nucleolus of the accusers for what became the most infamous Witch Hunts and trials in history.
The cast were outstanding! A marathon rather than a sprint, with nowhere to hide, the Crucible takes the audience on an uncomfortable journey back in time to when America was young and communities were governed as much by religious belief as a foundation and form of social control as much as they were by the State. Religious leaders were often the glue that held communities together and the regular Sunday meetings, the opportunity to gather the people to them to enforce the social behaviours and norms of the people around them.
When the Rev. Parris discovers his daughter, niece, and a group of girls in the woods, dancing (some naked) it triggers a chain of events that will change the lives of the people of Salem and surrounding areas even now to the present day.
The opening scene shows us Parris’s daughter, Betty, seemingly lifeless in her bed. His niece, Abigail Williams, has recently been returned to him having been dismissed from the service of the Proctor family as being unsatisfactory. As the tail unfolds we discover that she had been dismissed by Elizabeth Proctor (Goody Proctor or Good Wife Proctor), thrown out on the road when she discovered that she had slept with her husband.
The girls, unable to pass off their dancing as girlish fun, find themselves in a spiral of lies and deception that takes over the whole community and sets neighbour against neighbour and brings to the surface all the minor disagreements and before long, out of fear and revenge a ‘witch hunt’ is underway. The girls histrionics under questioning and in court sees them naming women within the community who have previously been held in high esteem as healers, midwives and good women. It is not long before the focus turns to the Proctor Household where one of the girls, Mary Warren, is in service. To the delight of Abigail, Elizabeth Proctor is arrested and although there is no foundation or truth in the accusation against her, all are powerless to assist her. She is manacled and taken away whilst her husband, John, tries to make sense of the madness that is unfolding in front of him.
John Proctor along with others make pleas to the court but the Judge and bureaucracy serve to make matters worse and end with the arrest of the husbands along with their wives. In the court, Mary Warren fears for her own life when Abigail sets the girls against her and claims that Mary is controlled by the devil. Mary retracts her statement that tells of the girls lies and this serves to strengthen the cases again the other poor accused souls for whom the audience is under illusion that this will end in the massacre of entire communities, whose fate is to be hung for the crime of Witchcraft.
The final scene was so powerful and the saying “There but by the grace of god (any god) go I” was never truer. The impassioned performances of the cast takes the audience on an uncomfortable journey of lies and injustices, persecution of all in society from the vulnerable, to those who dare to stand up for truth and justice. The audience could only watch in horror, powerless to help, as lies were told to set neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother, to remove members of their community with whom there had been grievances in the past. Some profited by the acquisition of land, others out of vengeance and spite, for some it was just the sheer terror that drove them to accuse others rather than allow the spotlight to fall on them.
The staging of this production was bare and minimalist to reflect the everyday life of 17th century America. As the lights dimmed between scenes and the whole cast changed the set before us it made for an easy transition to the next location.
I have seldom seen a production of such talent and skill. The power of the performances were breath taking, honest and believable. The actors have nothing but themselves and the passion of their performance. There are no props, just the sheer believability of the characterisation of each personality that was brought to life before us.
Lucy Keirl as Abigail Williams gave a believable performance of a young girl who was governed by her hormones. She was a manipulator and leader for the other girls to follow and by the time they realised what they had done it was too late for any change of course and self preservation must endure.
As we watched, Eion Slattery brought John Proctor into our lives and awoke our unconsciousness to the injustices that we are powerless to help. His relationship with his wife was an honest, if not uncomfortable one. His belief in her honesty would be his undoing as in her fear for her husbands life Elizabeth, played by Victoria Yeates, makes a choice that will condemn them both.
When Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible he wanted to address the issues of early 1950s America and the political turbulence that was happening. However, this play has now brought us lessons from history that we should not ignore. It gives the audience the opportunity to examine themselves for what and who they really are and revisit the values of truth, honesty and integrity.
This is not a play for the faint hearted, it is a three hours marathon of pure drama executed by an amazing cast of actors who gave the strongest performances you will every see for this play. I am certain had Arthur Miller been in the audience they would have had not only his approval but his admiration.