I had read Arthur Miller plays back in my college days so knew the type of themes he tackles in his work, but had never seen any performed so I was looking forward to seeing The Crucible. Set in a small village during the Salem Witch hunts The Crucible was written as an allegory for McCarthy’s anti communist campaign in the 50s. The play looks into the dark side of life – picking apart the relationships between friends, families and the authorities. Passion and prejudice, and self preservation are key.
The atmosphere was set from the start with an enormous glowing full moon as the backdrop to the stage, and the first scene shows the young girls of the village taking part in a ritual dance around a cauldron, and after drinking from it’s contents the pace excelerates and the girls strip to dance (not quite) naked before being discovered by Reverend Parris(Lauren McNellie).
After this the scene moves to the Reverend’s house where her daughter has fallen into a deep faint from which she has not awoken. Rumours of witchcraft and invoking of spirits is rife within the village and Rev, Parris has called in Reverend Hale (Dylan Stafford), an expert in witch hunting in order to allay fears and protect her position.
There is a stark contrast between the exuberance of the first scene and the claustrophobic, suspicions of the scenes that follow. Members of the community who comes to visit, ostensibly to enquire after the sick girl but each in their own way try to divert suspicion away from themselves – everyone in No Place it seems has something to hide, or some reason to avoid their lives being scrutinised. The whole of the play is filled with passion and suspicion and fear, centred on Abigail Williams (played convincingly by Laura Stoker), who has been dismissed from her position as servant to the Proctors, and who is infatuated with John Proctor (John Mitchell). Desperate to divert suspicion away from herself, she accuses others of raising spirits and so begins the process that leads to friends turning on friends. The tension builds as accusations and counter accusations fly. Meanwhile Hale quietly questions the villagers – making no accusations but somehow insinuating fault. He appears upright and godly at first, but as the play progresses his character becomes more ambivalent, and it becomes clear that he is not all he seems. A very effective touch is the subtle changes in his costume as the changes to his character develop so the red in his costume increases.
This is a complicated play, with much more going on than the obvious story of witch hunting and devil worship. The cast attacked their roles head on with excellent performances in particular from Laura Stoker, Michaela Forbes, and Dylan Stafford and Charlotte Casey. The Nice Swan Theatre Company can be justly proud of their interpretation of Arthur Millers play – which still has a relevant message almost 60 years after it was written. Very well staged and professionally executed performance.