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  • Colin Fraser

NT LIVE: THE CRUCIBLE

THREE AND A HALF STARS There are those who think the Devil is at work in Salem, and he must be stopped.

DRAMA STAGE UK English #THECRUCIBLE

Starring Brendan Cowell, Nathan Amzi


Arthur Miller’s acclaimed drama, ostensibly about the Salem witch trials but easily observed as scathing commentary about American gripped by McCarthyism in the 1950s, is revisited by London’s National Theatre. Although the production remains rooted in the 17th century, the elasticity of the prose lends itself as a means to view the dangers of any group of reactionaries who find their truth in the most absurd circumstances, whether that’s hard-right conspiracy theorists, hard-left zealots or those wary of witches. The danger of group-think and corrupting power is an ever present danger says THE CRUCIBLE, and a battle that must be fought.


Lyndsey Turner’s powerful production stars Australia’s Brendan Cowell (AVATAR) as the John Proctor, a voice of reason in a village overwhelmed by fear and religious fervour. He tries to calm a community that is convinced the devil is in its midst and why wouldn’t they be? An elder’s daughter has been seen dancing in the forest - what else other than witchcraft could possibly explain her behaviour? Before you can say ‘where’s the rope’, half the womenfolk have been caught up in the hysteria, named and sentenced to hang, Proctor’s kindly wife among them. Words and accusations, as the villagers soon discover, have a fearsome power.


THE CRUCIBLE is a timeless piece given an incredible charge by Turner’s vivid staging that includes rain storms that overwhelm the stage and all those on it. Visually this is a tour-de-force. Dramatically it is no less intense although much of this is sheeted home to Miller’s script: it’s virtually impossible for a play as good as this to go wrong. Proctor’s passionate entreaties rebound against young Abigail’s self-centred passion which leads all those in their orbit to the very edge of hell. The lunacy of it all is enough to make you question your very faith in humanity which is kind of the point. Something Cowell and Turner certainly understand.


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