The Crucible – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Douglas Rintoul
Reviewer: John Kennedy

‘The Salem tragedy developed from a paradox…a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its resolution.’

Arthur Miller was deceptively invited to testify before the House of Un-American Activities (HUAC) suspected/accused of being a communist. As with Salem’s self-appointed theocrats, such is the paradox of any self-righteous fanaticism (either Right or Left, religious or secular as makes no difference) the first thing to be sacrificed is any sense of self-irony, circumspection, much less humility. Mob murder dressed in judicial robes is the first sanctuary of frightened cowards.

Tonight’s production – a superb, seething cauldron of vicious, psychological vipers, maintains Miller’s self-evident truth that, while any laughter is one of gasping disbelief amid the impending abyss, what really rattled HUAC’s cage was that he was proffering them the proverbial Jeffersonian finger. Some lessons are never learnt. When too late, the smug, preying, praying mantis Reverend Hale (a commendable, Charlie Condou) eventually realises the horror he has unwittingly co-conspired to unleash, naked ambition is exposed in all its dishevelled, gory hubris – he is pathetically diminished.

Director, Douglas Rintoul has no ambiguous anxieties with this production. He guides the text’s rage against machination with both, rhetorical thunder and nuanced, wry pathos. Even more so in the second act where ingenious vocal effects lend a dissonant, subtle edge to the characters’ contained clamour and confessional surrender.

Lucy Keirl’s red-haired, hormonal wild-child, Abigail Williams, simmers with convincing on-heat cub-vixen device – as much as any teenage girl could deal with in a mid-17th century Puritan patriarchy. The excellent Eoin Slattery makes John Proctor his own. His guilt-tortured stand against malevolent realities, much worse than any devil could conspire, become both his nemesis and salvation. The celebration of bullies’ steeped in their own hypocritical certainty will see him hang nonetheless.

Lighting Designer, Chris Davy, exploits designer, Anouk Schiltz’s sparse set’s austere space with haunting clarity (notwithstanding the profuse use of drifty mist) in particular during the Court Room scene when the girls unify in guilt-displacement contrived hysteria. Diana Yekinni’s slave-girl, Tituba, character resonates with disturbed confusion. Torn from her native Barbados, foreigner twice-bound in a hostile, foreign land, her patois and amorphous Christianity conspire her to damn others lest she damns herself.

Cornelius Clarke’s pugnacious, materialistic Reverend Parris, is the Miller’s Tale spun large. Not very bright but incandescent with bellicose indignation, Clarke manifests the epitome of the small-town cleric stuffed with greed driven, self-important pomp – setting off a ticking time-bomb in which his diminutive brain still can’t even work out where the big and little hands go until it is too late. Victoria Yeates as Elizabeth Proctor defines a study in human dignity her peers will blanch at before following anytime soon.

Tonight’s Crucible sublimely portrays Miller’s allegory of intolerance’s contempt for humanity, where the voices of mercy and dignity are drowned in a cacophony of bile. Sixty-three years on, much the same is now often prefixed with or pseudonym keyboard braying cowards. With boorish snouts wallowing in troughs of self-righteous certainty, any remaining pearls of wisdom might be suffocated by the putrid triumph of the swill but for the voices of reason and kindness.

Runs until 10 June 2017 | Image: Alessia Chinazzo

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Timeless allegory of intolerance

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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