Arthur Miller’s fictionalised and dramatised play, The Crucible is at the Royal Exchange Theatre and it is fair to say the acting will leave you in a paroxysm of awe and applause.
The play, inspired by Miller’s story written in the 1950s, is about the Salem witch trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692 and 1693. It is as story of weighty interweaving themes of paranoia, guilt, religion and honour that mirrors both the time it was written in and our modern world of ideological schisms and paranoia.
For as long as the world continues to spin, you’re almost guaranteed there will always be something people fear and are paranoid about. In the 17th century it was witches, today it’s terrorism. With that, comes the relentless suspicion and forceful accusations demanding defendants to accept the charge. Miller vividly shows this timeless human trait or rather flaw, as he depicts how society tends to turn on itself in response to a threat to its security.
In the play, the men of Salem are in modern dress; its women, plain pilgrims’ dresses, buttoned-up and ankle-length, several centuries behind. Of the bunch, it was John Proctor who shone the catalytic light. Okay I’m going to say it, Jonjo O’Neill as Proctor is so compelling that had this been a monologue, his outstanding performance would command both the stage and headlines.
Playing Elizabeth – Proctor’s wife – Matti Houghton matches O’Neill’s natural, convincing and strong stage presence. As the pair along with Rebecca (Marjorie Yates), came into their ‘defendant’ roles in the second half of the play – uninfected by Salem’s conspiracies and ills – and effectively showed that “The devil is alive in Salem”.
Director Caroline Steinbeis has brought a creative production jam-packed with some uncomfortable watching and listening as Salem residents argue about witches, infidelity, exorcisms and God. The cast do deliver when spot-lit, the suspense and intensity hardly dwindles. It’s a triumphant play that will destabilise your perception of what you think is only of past societies’ tribulations. Showing until the 24th October, it is one not to miss.