Theatre Review: The Crucible – Royal Exchange Theatre

The Crucible

Photo Image: Jonathan Keenan

Arthur Miller’s THE CRUCIBLE is brought to life in new production directed by Caroline Steinbeis at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre

2015 is the centenary year of playwright Arthur Miller’s birth and director Caroline Steinbeis has brought his Broadway production of THE CRUCIBLE to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

Written in 1953 by Miller as an indirect and ingeniously shrewd way to speak out against McCarthyism and the anti-Communist enquiries in America, THE CRUCIBLE addresses those current events with the dramatization of a witch-hunt in 1692 colonial Massachusetts. The play did this so tacitly with the audience drawing their own parallels which resonate even with today’s social anxieties. In the 17th Century it was Witchcraft and the Supernatural, in the 1950’s it was the threat of Communism, today its National Security, ‘Big Brother’ and government surveillance.

John Proctor is portrayed by Jonjo O’Neill, this being his first appearance at the Royal Exchange Theatre. His struggle with his inner guilt for the tryst that, in effect triggered the snowball of events that occur in this story, and his passion for transparency and common sense to triumph over the mass-hysteria occurring is truly rousing.

Photo Image: Jonathan Keenan

Photo Image: Jonathan Keenan

Matti Houghton plays Elizabeth, Proctor’s formerly cold and distant wife “Oh Elizabeth, your justice would freeze beer”, takes an urgent character twist when faced with the accusation of Witchcraft from the girl she turned out on the high road for having a tryst with her husband. Her judgements turned inward in lament and facing the truth of her part in John’s eventual lechery. You can see these revelations creeping across her face as John’s fate becomes alarmingly apparent.

I have to give kudos to Sam Cox as Giles Corey, his comedy timing and delivery of Miller’s lines was appreciated by the entire audience resulting in genuine belly laughs rippling throughout the Round, a genuine respite from the intensity of some truly forceful scenes.

Max Jones set a stark intensity to the play, the storm in the first act resonating into the theatre space, with the lightning flashing outside making me feel as though I was inside the Proctor house and inside the drama. The rain and water that appeared in the jail in the second act summoned an apocalyptic sensation although I’m not sure how well it worked as the scene progressed with the splashing and dripping sometimes obscuring the actor’s dialogue.

I was somewhat perplexed as to why the female cast were dressed in shapeless puritan costumes and why the male cast were dressed in modern day attire, jeans, suits and the like. I found myself distracted from the focus of the play whilst trying to work this out for myself. I have since discovered that the dresses weren’t period costumes of the time but in fact ‘modest dresses’ worn by modern-day fundamentalist Christians, primarily in the US ‘Bible-Belt’ where the men wear normal attire whilst the women de-sexualise themselves by adorning these loose fitting garments and wearing flat shoes. So perhaps the question of obscurity of at what period and place this particular interpretation might be set, is in fact answered by this.

Photo Image: Jonathan Keenan

Photo Image: Jonathan Keenan

All in all I enjoyed the performance immensely. I left feeling invigorated as the whole play is executed at such fever-pitch throughout.

3.5 out of 5 stars

THE CRUCIBLE is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 18 September 2015 to 24 October 2015