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The Crucible at the Richmond Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 16th Apr 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

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Is the accuser always holy now?

Written by Arthur Miller in 1953 as a response to the communist witch-hunt, The Crucible is seen as a metaphor for McCarthyism as there were obvious parallels between the witch-trials in 17th century Salem and what witnesses were subjected to in hearings conducted by the House Unamerican Activities Community (HUAC). The cause was later hijacked by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who needed a patriotic platform that would generate enough publicity to guarantee his re-election. The play has never been more relevant than today when one can easily detect the strong parallels between the community of Salem - a society in the midst of great change and anxious about the future - and the political climate in the US and the UK. 

In the Puritan New England town of Salem, Massachusetts, a group of girls is detected dancing in the forest by the local minister, Reverend Parris. Parris’s daughter Betty, has since fallen into a catatonic state. There is talk of witchcraft and Reverend Hale, a specialist in this field, has been asked to come and investigate. Parris doesn't believe in unnatural causes but he is scared that his enemies might harm him over his daughter's improper behaviour. Abigail Williams, who led the dancing party in the woods, convinces the girls not to admit anything. Abigail had a secret affair with John Proctor, a respected local farmer, whilst being engaged in his home. She was consequently fired by Proctor's wife Elizabeth. Abigail still desires Proctor but he regrets his adulterous behaviour and fends her off.  

 

A separate argument between Proctor, Parris, Giles Corey, and the wealthy landowner Thomas Putnam soon ensues. This dispute regards land deeds and money with Putnam trying to grab Corey's land and to dictate the terms in Salem because of his wealth whilst Proctor argues that it is up to the community to make decisions. As the men argue, Reverend Hale arrives and examines Betty. Hale then demands to speak to Tituba. After Parris and Hale interrogate her, the panicky Tituba confesses to communing with the devil, and she hysterically accuses various townsfolk of consorting with the devil. Suddenly, Abigail joins her, confessing to having seen the devil conspiring and cavorting with other townspeople. Betty joins them in naming witches.

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Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou) having a friendly talk with John and Elizabeth Proctor (Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates) 

A week later, 14 people are locked up in prison because they were "seen with the devil" by the hysterical girls. At first only vagrants and eccentric old women are denounced as witches. John Proctor is reluctant to go to court and inform the judges about Abigail's character when Mary Warren, their servant arrives, and informs them that Elizabeth had been accused of witchcraft but the court did not pursue the accusation. Shortly thereafter, Giles Corey and Francis Nurse come to the Proctor home with news that their wives have been arrested. Officers of the court suddenly arrive and arrest Elizabeth. After they have taken her, Proctor browbeats Mary, insisting that she must go to Salem and expose Abigail and the other girls as frauds. 

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Betty Parris (Leona Allen) and Abigail Williams (Lucy Keirl) having a vision

Douglas Rintoul's production is very fast-paced, which sometimes works against the tension of the play. Occasional stage directions, such as "The curtain falls" and "He conceives himself much as a young doctor on his first call" (regarding Reverend Hale), that are projected onto the wall can be amusing but I found them rather distracting.

Victoria Yeates gives a touching performance as Elizabeth Proctor but is rather subdued, which is especially noticeable in the important final scene between Elizabeth and her husband. Charlie Condou is very good as Reverend Hale who comes to regret his hasty judgment. Lucy Keirl convinces as Abigail Williams and Jonathan Tatler is excellent as Judge Danforth as he manipulates naive witnesses so their statements suit his agenda. Diana Yekinni impresses as Tituba, helpless in her low status as a slave and afraid for her life, and Augustina Seymour is very good as both Mary Warren and the dignified Rebecca Nurse.

The minimalist stage design by Anouk Schiltz consists of a panelled wall and a number of trees which works well for this play. However, the costumes seem to derive from various periods over the past few centuries without any consistency whatsoever. Unfortunately, this is also true for the accents. It is doubtful that a small Puritan community would entail accents from Ireland, Cornwall and Buckinghamshire. Yet is is possible that these minor points show the universality of the play.

An impressive production of a powerful play. 

By Carolin Kopplin 

The next stop of the tour will be Brighton from 24th April.

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson/aspx28

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval

Photo Credit: Alessia Chinazzo

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