REVIEW: The Crucible at Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
PUBLISHED: 01:53 21 March 2017 | UPDATED: 01:55 21 March 2017
The Crucible at The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, from March 20 to 25, 2017.
Whether it’s 17th-century Massachusetts or 21st-century Washington, the parallels are painfully evident.
Tonight’s performance of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible has us all questioning our ability to do what’s right when faced with fear; to tell the truth despite the consequences. It’s a timeless story of persecution and hysteria that often rears its ugly head when the political world is in a messy state of flux.
The Crucible was first performed in 1952 as a wave of anti-Communist witch hunts swept through American society. As Miller witnessed the effects of McCarthyism on the nation, he felt inspired to open the history book and remind us of what we’re capable of. “I remembered these stories [of the Salem witch trials],” he said, “and used to tell them to people when it started. I had no idea that it was going to go as far as it went… McCarthy was actually saying certain lines that I recall the witch-hunters saying in Salem.”
The flagrant disregard of hard evidence seen in the clergy and judiciary – their need, and ultimately their ability, to bend the outcome to fit their purposes is a terrifyingly all-too-real depiction of what has happened time and time again.
This effectively staged production, directed by Douglas Rintoul, opens with Reverend Parris (played by Cornelius Clarke) praying at the bedside of daughter Betty (Leona Allen), who is seemingly afflicted with some form of witchery and is in a catatonic state. Her friend Abigail (Lucy Keirl) stands nearby, giving her account of the girls’ discovery by the priest in the woodland, insisting their dancing and sinful behaviour – with 10 to 12 others – was innocent fun, and that the shock of the priest’s appearance was the cause of the Betty’s state.
What unfolds is a familiar tale of adultery, of a faithful wife defending the man she loves, of deception, jealousy, and spiteful revenge… what isn’t familiar is the horrific outcome of these human failings. It’s the perfect storm of teenage energy, the fragile nature of officialdom and blatant opportunism.
The strong cast include the roles of Elizabeth Proctor played by Victoria Yeates, and husband John played by Eoin Slattery, and the chemistry between them is exquisite. You really do get the sense that these two have been through so much together and, despite infidelities, will lay down their lives for each other. Other standout performances include Jonathan Tafler as the formidable Judge Danforth (what presence!); Charlie Condou as Reverend Hale, who effortlessly pulls off the role of repentant priest who dares to speak out against the insanity of the judicial system; and of course Lucy Keirl as Abigail Williams, the conniving teenager who is playing them all for fools.
The combined use of clever staging, effective use of stark lighting and swirling smoke, ominous sound design, and excellent cast, makes for a strong production that will have you leaving the theatre questioning what history has in store for us next.
The Crucible is at The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, from March 20 to 25. Box office: 01242 572573, www.everymantheatre.org.uk