Writer: Arthur Miller
Director: Douglas Rintoul
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Chilling in its relevance to the fanaticism that is threatening us as we go about our business today, this new production of the American classic The Crucible, based on the true story of the Witches of Salem, which was adapted for the screen in 1996 and won Miller an Academy award for the Best Adapted Screenplay, is a stark reminder of the power of hysteria. Those unfamiliar with the piece might be forgiven for thinking that a plotline which involves a belief in witchcraft belongs in the history books but, sadly, the paranoia and mass hysteria it projects is all too evident in today’s society.
The story centres round a group of young girls in a small town in New England dancing in the woods in an attempt to conjure up spirits. They come to believe that the devil is among them; evil is in their midst and must be eradicated. The result is an atmosphere of fear in which every man and woman suspects his or her neighbour. Nobody is safe.
Political theatre is never an easy remit, and Arthur Miller’s tour de force, written and premiered in the mid-Fifties when America was in the grip of a feverish anti-Communist crusade, is three hours of unremitting angst. Douglas Rintoul’s production, under the banner of Selladoor Productions and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, while highlighting the relevance with today’s political climate of unrest both in the US and elsewhere in a manner which Miller himself would have fully approved, lacks pace at times but never loses sight of the parallels between the attitudes that prevailed in seventeenth-century Salem and the feeling of unrest, the suspicion, the uncertainty as to what will happen in the future which are still in evidence worldwide.
A strong cast handles this difficult play well, particularly so in the case of Irish actor Eoin Slattery in the central role of John Proctor, while opposite him Victoria Yeates more than holds her own as his wife Elizabeth – supportive of her husband but not afraid to stand up for womanhood. A well-developed performance by Augustina Seymour as the Proctor’s maid Mary Warren, with David Delve an excellent Giles Corey, while Charlie Condrou, (well known to TV’s Coronation Street aficionados) gives a mesmeric performance as Reverend Hale, the minister bent on seeking out and eradicating witchcraft who finds himself uncertain as to what is the real truth. Jonathan Tafner is an impressive Judge Danforth – an elder statesman whose patience is sorely tried.
Rintoul adheres to the concept of the original but uses modern techniques to bring the play into the twenty-first century. Noticeably, while female members of the cast wear old-fashioned styles, the clothes of the male actors have a later day feel. Sets are structured and simple, although, whether projecting certain stage directions and information on the back screen is questionable. Chris Davey’s lighting has a major contribution to make in the reflection of atmosphere and the unseen, as the tension builds towards a searing climax.
Runs until Saturday 27 May | Image: Contributed