Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in the 1950’s after his experiences with the McCarthy government and their blacklisting of accused Communists. He used the story of the Salem witch trials, which took place in Massachusetts in the 1600s, as an allegory of McCarthyism. As with the alleged witches of Salem, suspected Communists were encouraged to confess and to identify other Red sympathizers as means of escaping punishment. It is a harrowing story, partly dramatized and partially fictionalized, that reflects on the perversion of justice; revenge and the self-righteousness of those acting in the name of a righteous cause.
This production is heavy and exhausting; it conveys a new sense of relevance to a subject that once would have been resigned to the past but now seems uncomfortably familiar. The play runs for over three and a half hours and during that time the travesty of the tale hits a hard punch over and over again.
The Old Vic has been transformed, the stage set in a circular configuration. It is sparsely furnished, dark and sinister; its plainness speaking volumes. There is an uncomfortable familiarity in the rhetoric: religious fundamentalism, killing in the name of God, self-serving interests and people in authority blinded by their own motivations and beliefs. The similarities to modern day are not overtly stated; they are subtly teased out and delicately driven home through Yael Farber’s masterful direction.
Richard Armitage is excellent as Proctor, a good man paralysed by a shameful act and gross error of judgement. Adrian Schiller is truly memorable as the Rev John Hale. In the second act he delivers a heartfelt performance as the tortured soul whose conscience is ravaged by guilt as he realises what a terrible travesty of justice has been done.
This production of The Cruicible has been filmed and will be broadcast at cinemas across the world later this year. It will also be available for download. More information is available from Digital Theatre: www.digitaltheatre.com
The Crucible is currently running at the Old Vic in London until the 13th September 2014 www.oldvictheatre.com