The Crucible at the National Theatre
Arthur Miller’s prevailing parable, The Crucible last enjoyed a major revival on the London stage with Yaël Farber’s celebrated production at the Old Vic in 2014. Now it finds a home in the National’s most expansive theatre – the Olivier – with director Lyndsey Turner at the helm. The play was written in response to the hysteria that enveloped 1950s America as controversial senator Joseph McCarthy provoked sweeping and unfounded allegations of communists infiltrating the country. Drawing comparisons with the Salem witch hunts of the 1600s, Miller’s masterpiece is an allegorical tale of paranoia, panic and persecution that holds undeniable pertinence today.
Hysteria grips a New England community after young Betty inexplicably falls into a coma. The previous evening, she was seen performing a ritualistic dance in the forest along with several other girls. Suspected of witchcraft, the group’s ringleader, Abigail, is adamant they were only having innocent fun, but Betty’s father, Reverend Parris, calls for an investigation. As frenzied panic and infectious suspicion cloaks the town, John Proctor is seemingly the only individual who dares to voice the truth, regardless of the personal cost.
The extensive space matches a sprawling play containing 27 characters. Running at two hours and 50 minutes, including an interval, Turner succeeds in preventing the pace from ever becoming sluggish. Despite the myriad of lofty themes being explored, including judgement, gossip, herd mentality and exclusion, the production brims with ever-building suspense and underlying horror. Turner quite rightly places Miller’s writing centre-stage, allowing the play to feel universal and relevant – a safer production than the Old Vic’s revival, but a reminder of the esteemed playwright’s undeniable talent. Aesthetically stimulating thanks to Es Devlin’s set design and Tim Lutkin’s clever use of light and shade, this is a show that is visually stunning.
Brendan Cowell’s Proctor conjures a hardworking farmer with an unpredictable temperament lurking beneath the surface. The always-alluring actor commands the audience’s attention throughout with a carefully considered and nuanced performance. Erin Doherty – known for her much-applauded role as a young Princess Anne in The Crown – also demonstrates her extensive acting ability in a feverishly vindictive portrayal of Abigail that confirms a promising stage career ahead of her. The entire ensemble also delivers, with each actor elevating the piece. Eileen Walsh stands out as the vulnerable Elizabeth Proctor and Karl Johnson’s Giles Corey is pleasingly compelling.
Turner’s exalted revival cements Miller’s relevance in 2022, with this version feeling suitably urgent and timely, while staying faithful to the original text. A powerful and provocative production that more than does justice to the modern classic.
Photo: Johan Persson
The Crucible is at the National Theatre from 14th September until 5th November 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for the production here: