The Crucible at The Old Vic is an immensely powerful American classic. It’s a chilling, and ultimately heart-wrenching drama that looks at a world torn apart by hysteria and vengeance, and one man’s fight to stop it.
The setting is the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, used as a device by playwright Arthur Miller to convey the terror and hypocrisy of the ‘Red Scare’ of 1950s America, when even the most tenuous link to communism could spell the end of your career and quite probably land you in jail.
Heavy stuff perhaps, but we were mesmerised by this thrilling production. We hid our faces, cried and gasped — along with most of the audience.
There’s darkness and the threat of magic in the air from the outset. Tituba (Sarah Niles) fills the dimly lit set with an other-wordly presence — her eerie movements, breathing and stare are likely to stay with you for a while after.
Even more so, Richard Armitage’s flawless portrayal of John Proctor will stay with you for a lifetime. His version of the deeply troubled anti-hero may well rocket John Proctor into your mind as one of the greatest on-stage characters of modern times. He’s a fallen man, having inadvertently caused the whole witch-hunt via his adultery with the main ringleader Abigail Williams, played mercilessly, ruthlessly, with sparkling evil by Samantha Colley.
Armitage erupts with guilt, pride, regret and courage; the struggles of his psyche brought dazzlingly to life through the murky grey light of a beautifully stark, dark and barren set. His ultimate end is hard to watch, with the rawness of his inner turmoil painfully palpable.
Armitage and Colley aside, this is a stellar cast, and a large one — with each member making an impact. Paddy Navin’s Sarah Good is loveable and poignant as perhaps the only villager not to be swayed by the hysteria. Ann and Thomas Putnam (Rebbeca Saire and Harry Attwell) are instantly unlikeable, and consistently abhorrent. Exactly what you want from villains. Adrian Schiller’s emotional journey as Reverend John Hale presents the biggest transformation, from sheep to rebel, while Natalie Gavin’s courage then eventual collapse as Mary Warren had us on the edge of our seats.
The only hint of a downside perhaps is that we found it a tad long. Three hours 10 minutes of such dramatic intensity can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating. But that’s Arthur Miller’s fault, not director Yael Farber. Her production of The Crucible is sure to shake you — it’s an allegorical tale that’s just as relevant today, with plenty of punch. Perhaps there was magic happening after all…
At The Old Vic, Waterloo, until 13 September. Tickets from £10. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.