The Crucible

The Crucible

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There are many many many classics I have not seen or read. One of the greats is Arthur Miller. I have not seen any of his work or know much about him except what I have read about him in a Marilyn Monroe biography. Obviously, he did not feature heavily. I had vague understandings of his plays, that many offered a subtle comparisons and commentaries on the America around him. Handsome Hobbit Richard Armitage starred in a 2014 revival of the 1953 play The Crucible at The Old Vic Theatre.

For those as ignorant as me; The Crucible is the story of the Salem witch trials. England had Matthew Hopkins, Massachusetts had the Court of Oyer and Terminer. In Miller’s fictionalised tale, Thomas Danforth leads a court that hunt down the accused in the hope of finding those that are truly possessed by the devil. However, the devil is in the detail, Danforth’s crusade does not run smoothly as the village’s own sins and wrong doings are brought to light. Reverend Samuel Parris is accused of fleecing the church; John Proctor, played by Armitage, has committed adultery leading him to believe Abigail Williams’ actions are inspired by revenge rather than religion.

Its massive four act structure and three and a half hour running time makes it’s as epic as a Shakespeare tragedy. It is a great tragedy, few characters are pure and true, and yet we empathise with many of them. Except Abigail Williams, she’s just a bitch. Proctor recognises his sins and does what he can to be a ‘good man’. This was a phrase that was repeated a lot; ‘good people’, ‘good man’, ‘good wife’. They are flawed and err like all humans but these are dark time where a population can be controlled by a fear of hell as Reverend Parris, played by Michael Thomas, so heavily preaches. Good is not good enough.

The law is informed by the bible and witchcraft cannot be tolerated. The women and men accused may either confess or be hung for not admitting or repenting their crimes. Quite the Catch 22 rather like Miller found himself in. The play is an allegory of McCarthyism, when the U.S. government blacklisted accused communists. The Crucible is emotionally charged from beginning to end, the men shout themselves hoarse as if he who shouts loudest is the most righteous, whether he has evidence or not. But of course, how does one prove witchcraft?

This production was directed by multiple award-winning director and playwright of international acclaim: Yaël Farber. Time was taken to tell the story, scenes were set slowly and precisely, unlike the chaos of the narrative. Having never seen it before, I didn’t know what to expect next. I was always kept guessing and doubting. Each and every one of the actors giving it their all, a powerful ensemble that takes your breath away. This play deserved every five star review it got during its run in the autumn. I only wish I’d seen it live.