Arthur Miller’s The Crucible may be one of the most frequently performed plays there is, meaning that any production of it will be met with high expectations. Although a wonderful play, the regularity with which it is performed means that the pressure is on in terms of direction and production, so that the play does not lose its magic or feel overdone. The King’s Players’ new production of the play adds elements such as soundscape and film to elevate the piece for a modern (and probably majority student) audience.
For those that are uncertain, the show follows the story of a community in Salem. After a group of young girls, including antagonist Abigail Williams, conjure spirits in the forest, one of them is taken ill. Those in the parish suspect witchcraft to be the cause of her ills, but from the very moment the whispers of witchcraft and the devil start to spread, no-one is safe from accusations. The whole town turns to chaos and fear drives the majority of the characters in the play.
The show is performed in the Anatomy Museum at King’s College London, a room with white-washed walls, futurist ball lights, many projectors and technology all over the room. This location creates a really interesting juxtaposition between the modern day and the time period of The Crucible. The production uses the projectors to its advantage, and projects cleverly edited videos on the back wall in climactic moments of the play. Not only does this add tension and a mood of uncertainty for audience members, but it really adds a new layer to the play. The video shows the young girls with Tituba dancing and casting spirits in the forest. It is played at the very start to introduce why Betty is unwell, but then is referred back to in climactic moments and highlights new people that have been accused.
In one scene where Abigail accuses Tituba of forcing the girls to call spirits, the video again shows the girls in the forest, but it is also cut with footage of modern-day gang violence and police brutality. The people featured in the video are black, presumably to liken the accusations of Tituba to the false accusations made about black people in the news recently. Not only does this call up a very interesting discussion about race in relation to violence, but also draws interesting parallels between policeman and the men of high power in Salem, and the young girls and gang culture. Often actions in the play are driven by fear, and these videos highlight that. This is a very innovative idea, and I think the play has room for even more moments where modern parallels could be made.
The performance space is quite small, so in moments where only a few characters are on stage the direction can be played with more. This is done very well, but at times when the stage is more crowded things look a little messy. The use of the balcony and audience is effective in moments where the focus was not on the characters there, but they were still present either physically or in spirit.
The group use minimal set and keep costumes simple, mostly all in black with the girls in black headscarfs also. Overall the language and action are performed very well, and the strength of the group is seen in moments of high tension. It is also very refreshing to see Abigail and the girls played by actors similar to the age of the characters. Iconic lines such as “I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you” and “we will burn together” are delivered with just the necessary gusto from the two leading actors. Particular stand-out performances come from John Proctor (Magnus Gordon), Abigail Williams (Rosalia Myttas-Perris), Mary Warren (Izzy Glenton), Ann Putman (Beth Mabin) and Reverend Parris (Nick Carter).
The Crucible played at the Anatomy Museum, Kings College London until 2 April. For more information, see the KCL Students’ Union website.