The Crucible – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
The Crucible – Review
West Yorkshire Playhouse, October 2014
by Sandra Callard
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is undoubtedly one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Following its recent success at the Old Vic the production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse has been eagerly anticipated. Set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, this electrifying production clearly shows the exhilarating and grotesque terrors the small town of Salem suffers during this strange and terrifying period of history.
The Crucible is Miller’s response to him being called before Senator Joe McCarthy’s ‘Committee for Un-American Activities’ in 1955. Here, he is convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal the names of alleged Communist writers he has known. He appeals against the decision and his conviction is quashed some three years later. The Crucible has clear parallels with the McCarthy Committee. But it also resonates throughout the following decades as politics and the world changes. Ultimately, this is the mark of a true classic.
James Brining, artistic director of this production seamlessly evokes not only the Salem era, but the modern age as well. The women dress in 17th century garb of long skirts, boots and modesty caps. The men are in black suits, t-shirts and leather shoes. The stage sets also echo this theme. There are stark wooden chairs in church and home. But there is one red plastic chair amongst them. This plastic chair holds the witnesses as they are interrogated. A microphone relays their answers.
“The truth founders”
There is a sense of menace as the young girls of the town are caught dancing in the forest. Suggestions of witchcraft emerge. Kate Phillips convincingly plays their leader, Abigail Williams. She mixes truth and lies until all are caught in her mesh of mischief. An honest local farmer, John Proctor, brilliantly portrayed by Martin Marquez, is caught in her web. He admits to once committing adultery with her. He confesses to his wife, Elizabeth, and is tries hard to make amends. The rising hysteria is appalling as more and more people are tried for witchcraft and hanged.
The pace of The Crucible moves relentlessly and inexorably towards disaster. Pparanoia grips the town. Joseph Mandell ably and chillingly plays the Deputy-Governor. He is swayed by the lies, retractions and more lies of the girls. The truth founders in a morass of deception. Danforth chooses to hang more people than admit he may be wrong.
There are superb performances throughout the cast. Daniel Poyser as the Reverend Hale, shines as he agonises over, and finally and hopelessly sees, the horrifying depths to which Salem has sunk. Steven Beard gives a wonderful performance as the old, confused Giles Corey. He is puzzled and heartbroken as to why his wife is being hung for witchcraft because she read a book. Marlene Sidaway is wonderful as Rebecca Nurse, the one quiet and sane voice amongst the hysteria.
This is not an easy play to watch. It is dark, surprising, harrowing and uplifting in turn. It is over three hours long in just two acts. But I am riveted. I did not want to miss a heartbeat of this extraordinary drama unfolding. I am no scholar of Miller’s work. But it left me in awe of this literary giant. His insight into the emotions and motives of fundamentalism, be it religious or political, is immense. The Crucible is a warning from history. The unpalatable message rings down through the ages. Truth, and our horrifying ability to ignore or distort it, must be recognised if we are to achieve anything like justice and peace. Not only in the world, but in ourselves.
images: Keith Pattison