The Crucible – review

Theatre Royal, York

York Theatre Royal has become, temporarily at least, York theatre-in-the-round for a season of plays. It is rare to see Arthur Miller's epic dissection of the Salem witch trials at such close quarters, and there are gains and losses to be made from staging The Crucible in, well, a crucible.

The potency of Miller's political allegory is clear. The zealous terror can be applied to whatever bogeyman troubles the American consciousness most: call it witchcraft, communism or the axis of evil, Miller understood better than anyone that the biggest threat to a community is collective paranoia. The downside is that, in such an intimate environment, the great public scenes seem overcrowded. In the best productions, the demonic possession of the girls is blood-curdling. Here, it seems obvious that they are faking.

Juliet Forster's production is more assured in the intimate scenes, in which Miller picks through the remains of the Proctor's marriage. Stephen Billington's John Proctor is a great, sullen anti-hero; an unrepentant adulterer arrogant enough to believe that observing nine out of 10 commandments is a reasonable average. The disapprobation of Helen Kay's Elizabeth is sufficient to freeze her husband's beer. Lucille Sharpe's Abigail is a truly poisonous little snake, though the most affecting performances come from the senior members of the community: Pamela Buchner's Rebecca Nurse, who stumbles on the way to the gallows having been denied breakfast, and Neil Salvage's self-determined Cory, put to death under a pile of stones while calling for more weight.


Alfred Hickling

The GuardianTramp

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