Robert Tanitch reviews The Crucible at The Old Vic, London, SE1
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a modern classic, one of the great plays of the 20th century, an allegory for all time, is based on the notorious witchcraft trials in Salem in 1692; but it was inspired by the American playwright’s own experience during Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch‑hunt of communists in the 1950s.
Miller was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He refused (like the hero in his play) to incriminate others and was blacklisted by Hollywood.
Is the accuser always holy? Vengeance is walking Salem. A God-fearing community in Massachusetts is terrorized into paranoid fury. Truth and justice are perverted and the only way to survive, if you were accused of witchcraft, was to admit to having seen witches. Those who did not confess were hanged.
Richard Armitage gives a performance of great physical and moral strength as John Proctor, morally compromised by his affair with a servant and guilt-ridden. Asked why, he refuses to allow his signed confession to be nailed to the church door, he memorably declares:
“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name.”
The Old Vic is once again a theatre in the round. Yael Farber’s stark and urgent staging has tremendous power. The audience’s deep involvement is palpable throughout. There is a great scene, excellently acted by Anna Madeley and Jack Ellis, when Proctor’s wife lies to save her husband and everybody knows she is lying and can see why she is lying, except the person, who matters, Deputy Governor Danforth, the judge presiding at her trial.
The actors are not afraid to give big performances and there is excellent work from a fine ensemble which includes Adrian Schiller (as Rev Hale, who denounces the proceedings), Michael Thomas (as Parris, the unpopular clergyman, who preaches hell fire and damnation), Samantha Colley (as Abigail, leader of the hysterical teenage girls), Ann Firbank (as the elderly and wise Rebecca Nurse) and William Gaunt as the litigious Giles Corey.
The Crucible is not to be missed by anybody who enjoys a good drama.