FOLLOWING a sold-out run at the National Theatre, Arthur Miller’s great witch-hunt drama has now taken up residency in the West End, at the Gielgud Theatre. Exactly seven decades after the play debuted in New York, this powerful tale about puritanism and paranoia couldn’t resonate more in the contemporary climate.
At nearly three hours long, The Crucible, directed by the Olivier Award-winning Lyndsey Turner, unravels the moral panic that spread through a 17th-century New England town which genuinely believed that its community were possessed by the devil.
Miller’s account was only partially fictionalised – the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1692 and 1693 were very much real. This historical incident proved helpful to Miller, who used such source material to draw comparisons with the anti-Communist politics that dominated the United States in the early 1950s.
At the Gielgud, the action is centred around the young Abigail Williams (played by Milly Alcock), who is prepared to destroy the world if she can’t have John Proctor – a free-thinking farmer (played by Brian Gleeson) with whom she is fixated.
Proctor’s downfall is the adulterous moment he shared with the girl and her accusations against him lead Proctor through a journey of profound frustration. The leads here deliver strong performances and the chemistry between the pair is certainly convincing.
The backdrop to the impending terror is supplied by a cast of hysterical girls who all stand in line accusing their elders of satanism. There are frequently moments of shrieking and yelling, as well as the delivery of choral folk songs, which certainly add a sense of excess to proceedings. This seems to be Turner’s approach throughout, pushing forward an urgency that cannot be suppressed.
As a present-day tale, of the ways in which dishonesty can poison the public sphere, there is much to think about here – a testament to the quality of Miller’s text.
by Derby Jones
The Crucible plays at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, until 2nd September.