WRITER: ARTHUR MILLER
DIRECTOR: LYNDSEY TURNER
CAST: MILLY ALCOCK; CAITLIN FITZGERALD; BRIAN GLEESON; FISAYO AKINADE; KARL MATTHEW MARSH; AMY SNUDDEN; NICK FLETCHER; NIA TOWLE; TILLY TREMAYNE; NADINE HIGGIN
RUNNING TIME 2 HOURS 50MINS INCLUDING INTERVAL
GIELGUD THEATRE, SHAFTESBURY AVE, LONDON W1D 6AR
UNTIL 2ND SEPTEMBER 2023
Nia Towle as Mary Warren & Milly Alcock as Abigail Williams; The cast; Brian Gleeson as John Proctor & Caitlin FitzGerald as Elizabeth Proctor (Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
Written in 1953 by Marilyn Munroe’s husband, Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller (All My Sons, Death of a Salesman), and first performed on Broadway to moderate acclaim, The Crucible has been revived for London audiences by Olivier Award-winning director Lyndsey Turner. Transferring to the West End from the National Theatre where it received two Olivier nominations, the production has already had a successful run.
Based on hangings for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts during the 17th century, The Crucible was conceived by Miller in a cold war climate. Communists were seen as a real threat to American democracy leading to the formation of the House of Un-American Activities Committee under President Eisenhower’s administration. Headed up by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy the committee’s intent was to smoke out “reds under the bed”. Left-wing sympathisers working in Hollywood and on Broadway were particularly targeted. The drive became known as “The Red Scare” and the era as “McCarthyism”. The shocking culmination of all this was the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage. The allegory of the “witch hunt”, made popular by The Crucible, is now widely bandied about recently by Boris Johnson fending off accusations of breaking lockdown rules.
There is much to unravel from The Crucible. The context is extremely religious. At the time New England was populated by the progeny of devout Pilgrims from England. So, when a group of girls scare each other about spirits in the woods and point fingers about being possessed by Satan, the stakes are high.
Misogyny is another consideration. The gender differentiation is jarring. Girls are hysterical; women are accused of witchcraft. Men are priests; men are judges. There’s more to it of course. Farmer, John Proctor (Brian Gleeson) defends his wife Elizabeth (Caitlin Fitzgerald), whilst Rebecca Nurse (Tilly Tremayne) stirs things up accusing the girls of summoning Satan to kill her newborn babies. Nonetheless, there’s a heavy dose of “slut shaming” with Abigail Williams (Milly Alcock) as the remorseless temptress who brings down the repenting “lecher”, Proctor.
Racism also plays its part. Tituba (Nadine Higgin) refers to her brush with the spirits as “Barbados speak” and Proctor’s maid (Nia Towle) recalls massacres by (not against) Native American Indians. However, in Turner’s production racism is diffused. Black men alongside white men are in positions of authority and the cast of girls accused of witchcraft is diverse.
The set design by Tony Award Winner, Es Devlin (credited for Beyoncé and Super Bowl shows) is something to behold with the illusion of rain streaming across the stage. Whilst this must have looked striking in a Brutalist setting at the National Theatre, the gilded, fusty, velvet surrounds of The Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Ave are less favourable. The West End theatre also lends a musical feel to Turner’s production with much choreographed stomping and pitch-perfect crescendos by dozens of young women in high-necked frocks and ankle boots.
Fisayo Akinade as Reverend John Hale; Amy Snudden as Betty Parris & Nick Fletcher as Reverend Samuel Parris; Matthew Marsh as Deputy Governor Danforth
Admittedly, The Crucible is a lengthy play to sit through and the narrative is gruelling. And yet, despite endless accusations and religious posturing, it is truly gripping. With a strong cast of actors both established and emerging, Lyndsey Turner has revived an American classic which still holds as one of the most defining cautionary tales against mass panic and prejudice.