Theatre Review | The Crucible: A relentlessly contemporary interpretation
By Ruby Fischer
Stand-out Caoilfhionn Dunne as John Proctor Photo: Helen Murray
IT’S no surprise that, for its first ever revival of a classic, the Yard has gone with The Crucible. Though based on real events in Salem, Massachusetts, at the end of the 17th century, it’s got everything in terms of contemporary relevance — witch-hunts, fake news and fiendish women in a town brought to its knees by rumour and suspicion. So perhaps it’s not such a daring move for anyone hoping to connect with a 2019 audience.
This production certainly goes the extra mile to do so and to underscore the universality, all characters in the programme are listed as a witch.
The stage is full of front-facing chairs bearing their names and, as “A note about history” appears on a screen, the cast enter in modern dress to take
their seats. By the time they’ve launched into Miller’s famously exhaustive stage directions, it feels a little like we’re about to sit through three hours of Crucible: The Podcast. There’s an audible sigh of relief when Nina Cassells moves across the stage, prompting not so much a flurry of movement as a glacial slide into some good old-fashioned period drama.
Once the aprons and britches make an appearance, the production springs to life, though the thrill of the story is somewhat punctured by the confusing, yet determined, use of screens and microphones throughout, impelling the
actors to work doubly hard to keep up the momentum in what ought to be a pacey and cataclysmic first half.
The production’s conventions are further muddled when, amid the accusations of black magic and witchcraft, masked demons appear on stage dressed in black hoodies, with their bald plastic faces reminiscent of a freakish Instagram filter.
Visually, it’s a treat and presumably these spectres are supposed to represent a kind of modern evil running rife amid the poppets and needles.
But the point feels somewhat laboured, undermining the very human tragedy of the tale. While it makes sense to weave a 2019 angle into this
battle over truth and lies, director Jay Miller’s devices ultimately don’t improve on Miller’s original metaphor. Insta-demons aside, there’s much
that makes a long evening in the world’s most uncomfortable seating
worthwhile. When the actors are left alone to act, they deliver. Lucy Vandi is wonderful as Tituba, while Sophie Duval’s comic charm brings a Brechtian swagger to each of her characters.
Emma D’Arcy’s performance as Elizabeth Proctor is electrifying, and, unsurprisingly, Caoilfhionn Dunne delivers a stand-out performance as John
Proctor. Between the two of them the play finds its mark and it
eventually becomes clear that beneath the bells and whistles, there’s an incendiary magic to be found in this Crucible.