The Crucible

In May 2011 I watched Arthur Miller’s View From the Bridge at the Royal Exchange, which remains one of the most stunning plays I have seen here or elsewhere.  Can tonight’s performance of The Crucible match that?  Directed by Caroline Steinbeis, who also directed the impressive Brilliant Adventures in the studio last year, this stripped back version tries to find a Crucible for today.

The set is simple yet powerful; the stark circular design evokes the industrial melting pot and contains the actors in a ring, as if in a debate or a wrestling match.  The sound is almost industrial, sparingly used to great effect.  It’s simply but beautifully lit.

In this environment it comes down to the actors to bring the play out, and this is a very talented cast.  Outstanding performances from Jonjo O’Neill and Rachel Redford drive the central emotional relationship between John Proctor and Abigail Williams, the source of the lies at the heart of the play.  Ria Zmitrowicz’s Mary Warren is the perfect foil for Abigail’s manipulation, no more so than in the scenes where Abigail and the other girls perfectly mimic Mary’s behaviour to evoke their possession by witches.  Tim Steed’s Reverend John Hale subtly mirrors the arc of the play from zealous devil seeker to an appalling realisation of what he has done.  This is quality acting.  And for me, this was some of the best directing I have ever seen; Caroline Steinbeis is clearly a director to watch.

IMG_4400Despite being written about the McCarthy witch hunts in the 50’s, the Crucible is particularly relevant to our lives today.  Issues including our treatment of outsiders, individual greed and our desire to find someone to blame for all our ills, come through strongly in the play.  This is a play about people and how they behave when they have the opportunity to show their inner prejudices and fears, and that will never change.

This is classic, text-based theatre, the likes of which the Royal Exchange used to excel at producing.  There is no question that this is one of the best plays in Manchester this year; a production that will be talked about for years to come.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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