The Crucible at Gielgud Theatre
Director Lyndsey Turner’s revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic moves from the National Theatre to the West End, with some changes of cast. Brendan Gleeson now takes the central role of John Proctor, the farmer and philanderer whose seduction and consequent spurning of his teenage servant sets in motion a diabolical series of events.
The play is based on the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, but with obvious relevance to the times Miller lived in, where communism had replaced witchcraft as the boogeyman that stalked Christian America. There are also clear parallels with current polarised politics, where truth is secondary to personal agenda – though it was ever thus, and that’s what this work so brilliantly demonstrates.
The cast are all excellent; at a near three-hour running time and with themes of torture and execution, it’s a gruelling task for any actor. Karl Johnson stands out as Giles Corey, initially something of a comic character, whose arc is the most moving and troubling of them all. Fisayo Akinade as Reverend Hale conveys the sense of piety gone awry, a man who visibly unravels as he realises all his theological learnings mean nothing in the terrifying face of human irrationality dressed in righteous clothing. Speaking of which, Matthew Marsh as Deputy Governor Danforth is mesmerising. He is menacing and employs the sort of incontrovertibly twisted logic that it is impossible to argue against. The actor has the sort of presence that transcends lines and it’s impossible to take one’s eyes off him. Milly Alcock, in her stage debut as Abigail, is suitably scary, masterfully manipulating the fears and weaknesses of her small, isolated and precarious community to exact a callous revenge. Gleeson makes for a compelling Proctor, one of the few characters with any sense and integrity.
As the narrative reaches its climax, the court room scenes where Abigail and her acolytes begin to convulse and shriek are genuinely chilling. Es Devlin’s bleak set, bordered by black heaps of a substance that looks like coal and fronted by a sheet of rain before the show starts and at the interval, adds to the thrumming menace, as does the crawling, ever-present music.
This is a play dense with pithy observations on human nature. The first half is delivered a little too lightly and it seems a bit irksome that, in a piece of theatre about the persecution of “witches”, ultimately the most heroic and persecuted character is a man – but that is the source material. It is a great work.
Photo: Brinkhoff Moegenburg
The Crucible is at Gielgud Theatre from 7th June until 10th September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.