The Crucible Review
Old Vic Theatre, London
5 / 5
A dark, brooding and intensely brilliant production.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is an incendiary play that mesmerises audiences with grippingly intense performances from all of the cast and the haunting staging. The events of the Salem Witch Trials are the scene of a dramatic spectacle that holds everyone’s breath until the final curtain.
The premise of the play was the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century, but Miller’s own life experiences contribute metaphorically through the Communist witch hunts in 1950s America. Simply staged, with furniture brought on when necessary, the audience’s gaze is focused on the actors and the text, and the unique Old Vic stage provides a closeness to the narrative as we are drawn further in to this fantastical production.
An ominous soundscape introduces a long wordless opening where we witness a sinister ritual performed by black servant girl Tituba (Sarah Niles). This ambiguous scene is the catalyst for a chain of wretched events that shake the bedrock of Salem that demonstrates the intractability of the religious fundamentalists, and shows that good people can be tainted by unfounded accusations motivated by jealousy and malice. From the opening sequence, the incessant hum and throb of the soundscape creates a dark and dull atmosphere, made murkier still with swirls of smoke and the grey drapes covering the theatre.
The harshness of life in Massachusetts of the 1600s is distant, but the feeling of a cascading series of events that unfolded could be omnipresent. As the play progresses, the people become increasingly frightened, threatened and they look for any scapegoat to escape the possibility of being dragged into this frightful situation. The speed of which things unravel is scary, yet all too believable; those in power are easily swept down a path which they are too proud to shirk from when it seems that they may have made a mistake.
There was a maelstrom of performances worthy of mention; Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, Spooks) as John Proctor delivered an undeniably powerful and exhilarating performance shown through his righteous fury and blazing eyes, as well as his manifest decency. Armitage demonstrated the internal conflict that Proctor battles with throughout the events in Salem, displaying a multitude of emotions ranging from desperation and derision to love and regret. The hoarseness and strain in Proctor’s voice parallels the mental journey that Proctor has undertaken and it has left him filled with anger against the people who have driven him to a position he never envisaged finding himself, and, also sadness through his own personal guilt that remain with him to the dramatic conclusion.
Also particularly powerful was the performance of Samantha Colley, as Abigail Williams, the girl whom Proctor had a brief affair with several months before these events in Salem. Her obsession with Proctor is palpable in moments where they share the stage together. She becomes Proctor’s nemesis as Abigail’s actions descend Salem in to utter chaos and destruction, with ordinary, law-abiding and Christian people being condemned as witches, most notably, Elizabeth Proctor. Colley is making her professional stage debut, but her ferocious, manic and thrilling performance made her the stand out actor in the play. Her menacing presence and contortions were gripping, not only for to the citizens and panel of judges in Salem, but to every single person in the Old Vic Theatre.
As mentioned, there was an abundance of terrific performances, from William Gaunt’s woundingly proud old man Giles, Adrian Schiller’s conscience-stricken Reverend Hale to the magisterial and unrelenting Jack Ellis as Deputy Governor Danforth.
The moment the smoke plumes filled the stage, I was encapsulated in this electrifying and intense play which was full of raw and visceral power emanating from this excellent production of Arthur Miller’s classic. It is utterly unmissable.