The Crucible – review

Lyric, Belfast

Anyone looking for contemporary parallels in Arthur Miller's play based on the 1692 Salem witch trials will invariably find them. The fundamentalism, repression and prejudice that Miller used as a metaphor for anti-communist trials in 1950s America have endured, and taken new forms. In his riveting production for the redesigned Lyric, Conall Morrison does not labour any Northern Irish resonances. He lets the drama speak for itself in a period setting; the Ulster accents among the 22-strong ensemble bring sufficient reminders of riven communities close to home.

Sabine Dargent's spare, timber-framed set extends seamlessly into the stained wooden interior of the new auditorium, bringing an added immediacy to a staging that proves determined not to be reverential towards a classic text. These inhabitants of 17th-century Massachusetts have grime under their nails and grubby secrets to hide. Speeches and debates that can sound preachy in other productions are here spat out by suspicious village elders, buttoned-up men who are provoked and unsettled by the sexual power of the young women they insist on referring to as children.

As John Proctor, Patrick O'Kane's commanding appearance is enhanced by his matted, shoulder-length hair, emphasising the earthiness of a farmer who is too busy working the land to attend the church of a clergyman he despises. In later prison scenes, his half-naked body is smeared and stained, the chains around his wrists bruising his skin. O'Kane's portrayal is remarkably intense and nuanced: in the sexual energy of his encounter with Abigail, the teenage servant he seduces and later denounces as a whore; the anguish of his attempt to falsely confess to witchcraft to save his life; the tenderness of his valedictory scene with his wife, Elizabeth.

In fact, the central performances of O'Kane, Aoife Duffin and Catherine Cusack as husband, jealous lover and wife are so finely tuned emotionally that the set pieces of the courtroom scenes seem cruder by comparison. These are strikingly choreographed, though, with Judge Danforth spinning on the spot as he tries to quell the hysteria.

Like Miller's play itself, this production is most eloquent when it shows the human passions behind the moral arguments.


Helen Meany

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

The Crucible – review
Stephen Billington's John Proctor is a great, sullen anti-hero in this production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible; an adulterer who believes that observing nine out of 10 commandments is a reasonable average, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

11, May, 2011 @6:35 PM

Article image
The Crucible | Theatre review

Open Air, Regent's Park, London
The outdoor setting brings out the melodrama lurking inside Miller's classic account of the Salem witch trials, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

03, Jun, 2010 @8:30 PM

Article image
The Crucible review – full of raw, visceral power

Yaël Farber's extraordinary production of Arthur Miller's tale of the Salem witch hunt retains its disturbing relevance today, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

04, Jul, 2014 @10:44 AM

Article image
The Crucible review – intense Miller revival swaps Salem for Snowden
Caroline Steinbeis’s production gives us a John Proctor for the surveillance age to prove Miller’s point that a threatened society turns on itself

Alfred Hickling

24, Sep, 2015 @11:27 AM

Article image
The Crucible review – Miller’s Puritan paranoia finds renewed political urgency
This production, which superimposes the era in which the play was written upon the period in which it is set, resonates with our times, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

03, Oct, 2014 @9:33 AM

The Price - review

David Thacker delivers this fiscal parable with the authority of a preacher with a direct line to God, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

17, Mar, 2011 @6:00 PM

Article image
All My Sons – review

Arthur Miller's play becomes an account of the African American experience in this flawless production by Michael Buffong, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

02, Oct, 2013 @12:43 PM

Death of a Salesman – review
Ian Grieve's production of Death of a Salesman seems more miserable than tragic in today's Britain of austerity. In 2011, it is too apparent that Willy Loman's hopes are just delusions, writes Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher

15, Feb, 2011 @6:50 PM

Article image
The Crucible review – a witch hunt for truth-denying times
Harnessing horror film conventions, Lyndsey Turner’s intelligent revival conjures places where truth is a political inconvenience

Claire Armitstead

16, Jun, 2023 @1:01 PM

A View from the Bridge – review

Sarah Frankcom's reading of Arthur Miller's waterfront tragedy has a powerful sense of community, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

29, May, 2011 @5:30 PM