The Crucible

In the face of something terrible, we can either laugh or cry. For the audience watching John Dove’s new production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the apparent choice is – more often than not – to laugh. Not least as the simplest and most logical defences against accusations of witchcraft are twisted into proof of guilt and murderous condemnation. But is the audience laughing from a “Horrible Histories” sense of moral superiority over simpler folk in simpler times? Or is it because – despite the play’s 17th century setting and the McCarthyism under which it was written – this remains a consistently contemporary work? Sadly, it’s not entirely clear.

arguably, it’s the pinnacle in the Royal Lyceum’s celebratory 50th anniversary season – with a cast of 19 on stage to prove it.

That this is a big show, though, there’s no doubt; arguably, it’s the pinnacle in the Royal Lyceum’s celebratory 50th anniversary season – with a cast of 19 on stage to prove it. Yet, while most scenes require Dove to choreograph no more than half-a-dozen characters at a time, he repeatedly acts like some Renaissance painter, placing his cast in relatively static poses within Michael Taylor’s bare-boned set. While this tableaux approach helps focus our attention on Miller’s words, that carries its own risk. It’s a slight exaggeration to say that the cast offer more American accents than there were British colonies in the Americas during the times the play is set, but it’s sufficiently true to nevertheless prove distracting.

The casting is also somewhat unbalanced; although something of an ensemble piece, the role of “good man” John Proctor nevertheless does require a level of charisma and inner strength that Philip Cairns just seems to lack. In scene after scene, he is overshadowed by either the quiet dignity of Irene Allan as his wife Elizabeth, or the suppressed fury of Maghan Tyler as spurned lover Abigail Williams.

Just like Nature, any drama abhors a vacuum, which is why this production’s attention consequently shifts onto, firstly, the excellent Richard Conlon as the Reverend John Hale – the minister from outside town whose evidence-based approach to witchcraft is fascinating for all the wrong reasons. Conlon fully grasps the dramatic opportunities arising from his character’s own belated awakening to the folly of what’s happening as the number of hangings rises – and creates a fuller, rounder human being than might first be expected of the man. Secondly, there’s Ron Donachie as Deputy Governor Danforth; he only appears in the second half, but is a huge presence, both physically and dramatically. It’s difficult not to take your eyes off Donachie as a performer; it’s equally hard not to be horrified by the certainty of Danforth’s statement that “who is not with us is against us”.

There’s little doubt that The Crucible is a play that still has a lot to tell us about ourselves, and how we must constantly guard against fear, anger and the abuse of power by those who find themselves in authority. It’s a shame, however, that the motor of this particular production is, for the most part, barely ticking over.

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The Blurb

“I danced for the Devil; I saw him, I wrote in his book; I go back to Jesus; I kiss His hand. I saw Sarah Good with the Devil!”

When young women are discovered trying to conjure spirits, the God-fearing people of Salem, Massachusetts are told the devil is in their midst and must be rooted out at all costs. Accusations fly, scores are settled, and fear and suspicion reign. With terrifying power and momentum their faith becomes a murderous instrument of lust, paranoia and revenge.

Written during Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist trials in America, this classic tale of the witch hunts in colonial New England still stands as a powerful parable against the politics of fear.

Following huge acclaim for All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Price and A View from the Bridge, John Dove returns to direct The Crucible, completing The Lyceum’s acclaimed journey through the best loved works of Arthur Miller.

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