BWW Review: THE CRUCIBLE, Richmond Theatre

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Arthur Miller's The Crucible was written in response to the McCarthy-era in America, as an allegory for the witch hunts against supposed communists. The presidential order resulted in an obsession with exposing the 'red under the bed', destroying friendships and disrupting communities with fear and suspicion. Today, it appears more timely than ever, as we again find ourselves living in an era of heightened fear and anxiety. The play resonates as current warning against hysteria, the threat of religious fundamentalism and even the potential danger of fake news.

Based partly on the Salem witch trials in 1692, where over two hundred women were accused of witchcraft, the play follows a society where there is discomfort at the changes in the world. Suspicion about witchcraft begins to brew in the village; whispers increase, hysteria grows and a crusade is started against the supposed work of the devil in the community. As more and more innocent women are arrested and tried, the horrifying potential for terror and hysteria in the face of uncertainty and rumour is explored .

With a very strong cast, there are several standout performances. Coronation Street's Charlie Condrou plays witch-hunter Reverend Hale. He brings real intensity to the character as he visibly progresses from being hellbent on eradicating what he sees as depravity and devil worship in the small community to a realisation that truth is no longer an absolute.

John Proctor and his accused wife Elizabeth are played by Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates with profound depth and conviction. As we are introduced to the couple, we see the pain and struggle as they try to move on from John's adultery. The tension is palpable, but so is the love and sense of duty as the story progresses.

Cornelius Clarke makes a wonderfully bombastic Reverend Parris and Diana Yekinni is utterly convincing as slave girl Tituba, ready to admit to anything to save herself. She is a prime example of how panic and fear can turn into frenzy and fantasy.

Amongst this strong cast is also a bizarrely wide collection of regional accents; from Irish to Yorkshire to the West Country. For a small community, this creates something of a disconnect to the audience, as it is seemingly inexplicable.

Despite this, Douglas Rintoul's deft production builds the suspense within the story incredibly skillfully. Clever staging includes projection of analysis of the characters and certain stage directions onto the back of the set, which increases understanding and involvement in what is happening onstage. Adrienne Quartly's haunting sound design resonates uncomfortably and Chris Davey's lighting compliments the building tension and discomfort of the story.

Despite being Miller's most produced play, this production feels fresh and the tension is tangible and profound. Civil society relies on moderation, quiet sensibility and truth; Miller's brilliance is in showing how delicate and vulnerable this balance is. A profound cautionary tale for our times.

The Crucible is at Richmond Theatre until 15 April, then touring

Photo Credit: Alessia Chinazzo

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan