Review: The Crucible, Gielgud Theatre ★★★★★

Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg. 

by Christopher Day.

Following its run at the National last year, this spellbinding production of The Crucible has now transferred to the West End for a 12-week run.

The rain that pours from the rafters prior to the play and at the interval – along with Tingying Dong’s understated and moody score – helps set the tone for the gloomy atmosphere of 17th century Massachussets. We get an ominous and intense sense of the hysteria that gripped Salem in 1692, with Arthur Miller’s lengthy scenes and intoxicating dialogue keeping us immersed in the outrageous self-righteousness and moral earnestness of the characters.

The cast are universally superb. Most commanding of all is Matthew Marsh as Danforth, who does not even appear until after the interval. His earlier invisibility sets him apart from the others – he feels like an outsider, required for his authority, refusing to allow any doubts to dissuade him from continuing the witch hunt that has been set in motion.

Where the National’s original production had Brendan Cowell in the role of John Proctor, Brian Gleeson now takes the reins – bringing with him a change of accent, from American to Irish. It works, helping to ‘other’ Proctor and set him apart from the supposedly respectable, middle-class zealots who dominate this community.

Other performances worth mentioning include Milly Alcock as a brutally cold Abigail Williams, Fisayo Akinade as the regretful Reverend Hale, and Nick Fletcher as the defensive, responsibility-avoiding Reverend Parris. Karl Johnson returns as the amusing and sad figure of Giles Corey.

Last year’s production was criticised by some for sticking too faithfully to the original play and not engaging enough with modern manifestations of groupthink, echo chambers, and cancel culture. They miss the point. To tamper with the source material in that way would be to try to hit audiences over the head with simplistic points, where the original enables us to think afresh about some of the problems plaguing modern society.

Everybody is flawed here. Everybody sins. It is an exploration of what happens when those who deem themselves to be rational beings come up against doubters – and against evidence that they may be mistaken. Who doubles down? Who changes their mind?

Personal consciences are torn apart by the apparent binary between good and evil. The audience may see flawed characters, but Miller’s creations see only God or the devil, with arbitrary measures such as church attendance and ability to recite the ten commandments being taken as concrete evidence of somebody being good or evil.

The parallels with today are there, but all the more powerful and thought-provoking for not being deliberately played up. It raises questions about how, in our more secular society, we value traditional virtues, such as truth-telling, forgiveness, and loyalty to family, and how we respond to traditional sins, such as pride.

The Crucible is at the Gielgud Theatre until Saturday 2 September

Christopher Day is currently studying for a PhD in modern British history at the University of Westminster. He enjoys watching theatre, reading literature and following Stevenage FC. You can find him on Twitter @ChrisDay96.

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