Last Updated on 19th June 2023
Paul T Davies reviews the West End transfer of the National Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible now playing at the Gielgud Theatre.
17 June 2023
With former leaders accusing their prosecutors of witch hunts and kangaroo courts, conspiracy theories, cancel culture and social media lies and accusations, Arthur Miller’s play seems as pertinent as ever. The greatest play of the twentieth century is rendered new as a timeless classic in Lyndsey Turner’s majestic, urgent production, in which every line is forged with energy and total commitment. Transferring with ease from the National Theatre, Es Devin’s superb design boxes the action in, even the rain that falls feels claustrophobic, and out of the shadows comes an exemplary cast that proves that a text does not have to be “reimagined” to retain its power. The tale of the Salem witch hunts in 1692, an allegory of McCarthyism in 1953, becomes a warning to us all in 2023, with not a word altered.
Brian Gleeson is excellent as John Proctor, a man grounded in the earth, hard-working, honest, and direct, regretting and paying for his adultery with the manipulative Abigail Williams. (A fine performance by Milly Alcock, more powerful because of her ordinariness.) His anger and determination to prove the accusations false drive the energy of the piece, and his journey becomes heartbreaking, “Because it is my name!” pins the audience into their seats.
Caitlin FitzGerald imbues Elizabeth Proctor with dignity and frailty and the cast of “witches” are extraordinary, in perfect unison, a nest of lies and fear, underlining that whatever the girls did, it was men that interpreted their actions and signed the death warrants.
Act Three, with the audience desperately trying not to look for birds in the rafters, is spine-tingling, powerful and theatrically thrilling. Authority is well represented, Fisayo Akinade is excellent as Reverend Hale, reversing his opinion when he sees the trails for what they are, and Matthew Marsh exudes opinion and self-belief as a dominating Danforth, and the always excellent Karl Johnson uses his skilled timing to bring some much-needed laughter as Giles Corey.
It’s a brutal slab of history, and with the sound design adding to the atmosphere this excellent revival of a classic play is highly recommended.
Playing at the Gielgud Theatre until 2 September 2023