Millers most-performed, and perhaps most popular, play,
a professionally executed production of an excellent play, and it is likely to resonate with audiences now as much as it always has in times of political turmoil.
It is a brilliant play. Although the story is allegorical, Miller knows better than to make the characters allegorical, so each of them is human and real, with specific grievances and emotional hang-ups. He also chooses to hang this big, political tale on the emotional journey of one man, John Proctor. Proctor's story of wrestling with personal guilt is an excellent counterpoint that really humanises the themes of the play.
Unfortunately, although this production is serviceable, it doesn't really do justice to the text. Douglas Rintoul's direction has the play start at a pretty advanced pitch of hysteria, and stay on more or less the same level for the whole play. With no real changes of tone in almost three hours, and no sense of anything building, the hysteria of the characters seems more like melodrama on the part of the production. This directorial decision might have been more bearable had Eoin Slattery's John Proctor been more able to carry the role. Proctor is described in the stage directions as a man who makes fools feel their foolishness. A calm and rational presence who can throw the behaviour of everyone else into sharp relief. Instead, Slattery gives us a Proctor just as liable to hysterical outbursts as the rest of the cast, which only adds to the monotone feel.
Victoria Yeates is a real breath of fresh air. Her warm, human Elizabeth Proctor feels like a real person, and her emotional journey is one of the most compelling things in the play. Augustina Seymour also stands out as both Mary Warren and Goodie Nurse. She really draws out the tiny human details of her characters that make them utterly familiar. David Delve's Giles Corey brings a few very welcome glimpses of humour, and Lucy Keirl is very compelling as Abigail, the lead teenager. She really draws the eye in her earlier scenes when she is cold and calculating, and once the hysteria begins she is vindictive and powerful. However, the effectiveness of her performance is seriously muted by the fact that all her scenes are full of men yelling at each other.
This is a production with very little room to breathe, forcing most of the actors to clamour constantly for their story to be heard. That said, it's a professionally executed production of an excellent play, and it is likely to resonate with audiences now as much as it always has in times of political turmoil.