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Live / stage review

"A fresh presentation which feels raw and visceral": Arthur Miller's The Crucible at The Crucible

Miller’s play is a genuine classic and there is much to admire in this presentation by Sheffield Theatres – despite some jarring directorial choices.

15 March 2024
6 Anoushka Lucas Elizabeth Proctor and Simon Manyonda John Proctor in The Crucible Photo by Manuel Harlan

Anoushka Lucas as Elizabeth Proctor and Simon Manyonda as John Proctor in The Crucible.

Manuel Harlan

When Reverend Parris discovers his daughter and her friends dancing in the forest and engaging in what appears to be some sort of ritual, the puritan village of Salem soon becomes rife with talk of witchcraft and the mass hysteria sets in.

But as the truth of what the girls were doing in the woods starts to slowly emerge, so do the accusation against other townsfolk. These falsities soon start to escalate, and it doesn’t take long before the majority of women in the village are on trial as witches, leaving them faced with an impossible choice: should they falsely confess to a crime which they have not committed, or face death?

Set against the history of the now infamous witch hunts of Salem in the early 1690s, Arthur Miller's The Crucible play serves as an allegory for the McCarthy witchunts of the 1950s, where left-wing people faced accusations of being communists at a time when fearmongering, political division and scaremongering was at a peak.

75 years later the political landscape on this side of the Atlantic doesn’t necessarily look so different – albeit with witchcraft replaced by Brexit, immigration and 'sovereignty' as tools to stoke division, place blame and instil fear. It isn’t much of a stretch, when looking at the character of Reverend Parris in his all-encompassing desire to preserve his job and his standing in the community, to extrapolate his character to that of any self-serving present-day politician.

Miller’s play is a genuine classic and there is much to admire in this presentation by Sheffield Theatres. The predominantly bare stage and minimal staging strips back the work, allowing a complete focus on the genuine drama that unfolds.

Rose Shalloo’s performance as antagonist Abigail Williams was one which genuinely caused me to feel utter frustration, as the character piled lie upon lie in what seemed like an attempt to gain revenge on her former employer and lover, John Proctor, after he spurns her advances and makes it clear that his previous actions were a mistake and not to be repeated.

Simon Manyonda, playing Proctor, gives a confident and effective portrayal of a man who comes to realise the value of his name and who is forced to face the consequences of his actions.

Anthony Lau’s direction focusses on the hysterical and gothic nature of the ever-escalating accusations during the first two acts, before moving to an utterly compelling courtroom drama in act three, where Deputy Governor Danforth (played superbly by Ian Drysdale) picks and choses his own version of the truth to suit his needs, hiding behind his reputation and his falsely-placed virtue.

Nestled amongst the genuine tension that Lau elicits from the script and the performances, there are a handful of jarring directorial choices. The use of wired microphones on stands at various junctures made little sense, and quite why characters were giving evidence to the Court from atop a stack of orange plastic chairs was unclear.

But none of these things were quite as adept at pulling the audience out their immersion as having the houselights come on during various scenes and, at one point, leaving the back of the stage open so that the grey breezeblock and the iron shutters of the backstage area were exposed.

Those issues aside, there is a lot to commend in this production. This is a fresh presentation which feels raw and visceral. The story remains highly relevant and its tension draws you to the edge of your seat and holds you there, especially during the final two acts. It's well presented, beautifully acted and remains a thought-provoking piece of theatre, a thoroughly enjoyable modern take on an American classic.

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The Crucible is at Sheffield Theatres until 30 March 2024. You can find details of their accessibility policy here.

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