The 1950s were strange times in America. The Second World War was over, but a Cold War emerged, and with it an aura of paranoia and hysteria that saw the country turning on itself, trying to weed out anyone who was a Communist, and therefore, un-American. Senator Joe McCarthy started his witch-hunts, which saw innocent people jailed, destroyed, their lives ruined by (often) false accusations, with people encouraged to name names. It was against this backdrop that America’s celebrated playwright Arthur Miller wrote his masterpiece ‘The Crucible’. a savage indictment of the modern day witch hunts played out through the Salem Witch hunts of the 17th Century. Last night, the play showed it had lost non of its power to shock when it opened at The New Alex Theatre.
In Salem, the teenage girls have started to act strangely, dancing naked in the woods in the dead of night, and falling into cataclysmic trances. The suspicious townsfolk, led by the sanctimonious but corrupt Reverend Parris (Cornelius Clarke), suspect witchcraft, with Parris worried for his reputation, as his niece Abigail(Lucy Keirl) seems to be at the core of the activity. Other townsfolk suspect nothing more than hysteria, with one, John Proctor (Eoin Slattery), fearing this is vengeance for his rejection of Abigail. Another priest, Reverend Hale (Charlie Condou) is called to the town to give his opinion, but soon the town jails are filled with men and women accused of witchcraft by the increasingly powerful girls. With the arrival of Judge Canforth (Jonathan Tafler), and the sinister arrest of Elizabeth Proctor (Victoria Yeates) and Rebecca Nurse (Augustina Seymour), events in the town of Salem descend into hell, anyone can be accused, and telling the truth may well lead to death.
This is a powerful piece of theatre which plays with your mind and lingers long after the curtain falls. Information about characters is flashed onto the stage backdrop in a way that calls to mind Silent movies, perhaps a reminder of the Hollywood 10, destroyed by the McCarthy Witch hunts. Some of the cast are in period costume, others of suits and clothing more suited to the 1950s – again reminding us that this story from the past still has relevance in our more recent times.
The performances are excellent throughout the whole cast and show the mixture of emotions that run through the piece. John Proctor, as played by Eoin Slattery, is passionate and angry, even in the early scenes he is shown to be a man frustrated by the avarice of the church represented by Reverend Parris, and tormented by his attraction to Abigail. As his wife, Victoria Yeates is his polar opposite, her calm and dignity almost heartbreaking as she faces the accusations made against her.
Lucy Keirl is wonderfully evil as Abigail, showing no remorse as her words and actions condemn innocent men and women. Her ‘bewitching; is a tour de force in over the top histrionics – it would be funny if the consequences were not so devastating. Charlie Condou plays the role of the tortured Reverend Hale beautifully, his pain as he realises that the cases are built on lies and that good, innocent people are being killed is so real. Finally, Judge Danforth, as played by Jonathan Tafler, is an infuriating megalomaniac who cannot be wrong, nor made to see sense. It is a commanding performance that dominates the stage, sinister and yet measured in the playing.
The Crucible is an extraordinary piece of theatre that has so many echoes in our modern times. The final moments are as powerful and haunting as anything you will watch, and will remain with you long after you leave the theatre.
A must see.
New Alexandra Theatre
Tuesday 6- Saturday 10th June
Click here for ticket information