Dir. Douglas Rintoul, Theatre Royal, 12th – 17th June
It’s common knowledge that Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was intended to draw obvious parallels between the mania of the 1692 Salem witch hunt featured in the play and the paranoia of McCarthy-era America. Hunting for fictional witches and hunting for would-be Communists amounts to pretty much the same thing: displaced terror and unnecessary disruption. But politicised theatre has a habit of remaining relevant for long after its envisioned lifespan, and as director Douglas Rintoul states, ‘there’s a palpable sense that this 1950s play is for now’. It’s clear that in their recent performance of The Crucible, Selladoor Productions are intent on creating another analogy: between the terrified, socially anxious, misogynistic society of colonial America and today’s skewed political climate. Reassuring, eh?
Selladoor’s production of The Crucible is undoubtedly angry and politicised. Although I was very familiar with the text (unwelcome flashback to Higher English here), I have never felt so riled up on behalf of the unjustly accused prisoners. The ridiculously nonsensical Catch-22 that faces the ‘witches’ – falsely confess to consorting with the devil and you’ll be released, deny any wrongdoing and you’ll be hanged for your efforts – is an absurdist situation that makes itself keenly felt. The stellar performances of the actors are a huge factor in transforming a text-heavy allegory into something akin to an urgent thriller. Charlie Condou is perfect as Reverend Hale, the community’s voice of reason, and Lucy Keirl’s Abigail Williams is compelling to watch. Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates, as the humane but stilted Proctors, are particularly worthy of mention; the play’s second act, in which the Proctors are the undeniable stars, is arguably the most riveting of all.
Although Rintoul’s version of The Crucible makes for absorbing viewing, I can’t help feeling that for such a well-known play, there’s little new or inventive about its production that distinguishes it from many other successful stagings. The patchy attempts at self-conscious theatricality are mostly unconvincing – flashing stage directions such as ‘the curtain falls’ upon the back wall at the famous denouement is, after all, fairly self-evident – and unnecessary in a play that shines so well in its own right.