Arthur Miller’s The Crucible has always been the go-to play to always get the world talking – and Yaël Farber’s revival is no different. Despite its seventeenth-century storyline, there is something incredibly modern about this production. The theme of persecution and religious fundamentalism is something that will strike audiences now, the same way Miller was struck by the accusations of communism in the 1950s.
The play is a dramatised version of the Salem witch trails that took place in Massachusetts in the 1600s. We open on a bedside vigil; Reverend Parris (Michael Thomas) is praying for his daughter, Betty (Marama Corlett). The whole village suspects witchcraft, but Parris does not believe it, especially since his niece, Abigail Williams (Samantha Colley), said they were only dancing in the woods (which is a sin anyway!). We soon discover that Abigail has a much sinister side to her, threatening all of her friends if they reveal the real truth that they were trying to conjure spirits. Reverend Parris admits that witchcraft is aroun, and this triggers a never-ending accusation of witches in Salem, including farmer John Proctor (Richard Armitage) and his wife Elizabeth (Anna Madely).
The show feels like a nightmare – innocent people getting accused of something they did not do, and you can hear the audience groaning in frustration. This feeling of anger would not be so good if it was not for the fantastic cast – Colley especially, whose sinister performance as Abigail will have you reeling in your seat. Armitage’s dramatic transformation from farmer to prisoner takes your breath away.
But the biggest (and only) problem with The Crucible itself is the fact that at times it felt completely over the top. This is definitely a case of personal opinion because some people like that heightened sense of drama but at times, especially from Jack Ellis as Danforth, but I sometimes found myself trying not to smirk like a kid being told off by a teacher. This is something completely minuscule, because with the overdramatic moments come incredible, heartbreaking and, at times, creepy performances.
And in a show of this calibre, you would think the acting would be the talk of the show, but the creative team are the true scene stealers here. Tim Lutkin’s lighting is absolutely breathtaking, producing imagery that at times felt like you were watching a movie screen. Soutra Gilmour’s set also enhances the modern gothic feel that The Crucible is going for. You have to see it to believe it.
Overall The Crucible is one of the best shows to come out of The Old Vic in a while. The desperation of wanting a happy ending for the characters is the thing that keeps you going for the three hour 30 minute play, and while you just might feel emotionally exhausted at the end, it was absolutely worth it.
The Crucible is playing at the Old Vic Theatre until 13 September. For more information and tickets, see the Old Vic Theatre website.