Review by Daz Gale
There’s something almost supernatural going on with National Theatre at the moment. Always safe for a reliably high-quality level of show, their recent hit record is bordering on witchcraft with recent productions of The Motive And The Cue and Standing At The Sky’s Edge both getting West End transfers over the next 6 months or so. Before them, there’s another transfer to speak of with a West End transfer of 2022’s The Crucible – it’s almost like they’ve been dancing with the devil. I can tell you what I saw – mainly this show last year, but would it keep the same quality and manage to be every bit as Goody?
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible first premiered in 1953 and has been revived multiple times in the 70 years since with productions on stage and screen. It tells the story of the Salem witch trials as John Proctor fights to clear the name of the accused when a group of young women start naming them as conspirators with the devil. Will the truth set them free and can we be sure what the truth exactly is here? There is undoubtedly an evil at play here but not necessarily the one that is immediately suggested. The Crucible explores the power words can have and the terrible repercussions that can be caused through them.
Transferring from the vast space of the Nationals Olivier Theatre, I was unsure how it would fit into the smaller stage of the Gielgud Theatre but I needn’t have worried. Not only does the action and glorious design transfer effortlessly, it actually works more in its favour – with this story playing itself out more satisfactorily in a more intimate setting. This is very much a big story told in a small way and to that respect, this is a much better space to get the full impact of that.
The design was one of the most iconic aspects of the 2022 production, namely it’s stunning and breath-taking rain curtain which greets you as you step foot inside the auditorium. A fantastic feat in theatre, Es Devlin’s design truly is a work of art and remains as impressive on repeat visits as it did the first time I saw it last year. The Crucible isn’t a show with just one impressive design aspect with a dark and sparse stage beautifully atmospheric and wowing with reveals further back on stage thanks to an ingenious use of lighting from Tim Lutkin. Sound design from Tingying Dong and Christopher Shutt effortlessly allows the atmosphere to build up with ominous effects, a spine-tingling use of singing and voices resonating throughout the theatre.
If all the production elements consistently impress, it is Lyndsey Turner’s direction that should truly be commended. Taking source material that is so well loved and familiar to many such as The Crucible and attempting to bring something new to it can never be underestimated, but with this production she has managed that with ease. Arthur Miller’s incredible and timeless writing speaks for itself, but it is the direction that brings the story to life in a way that is captivating and, as strange as it might sound, comfortably uncomfortable.
In a show that demands many of its cast members come together as one unit in a true ensemble piece while making them break free for individual moments throughout, there are plenty of challenges for the overall impressive cast to tackle, but they more than rise to the occasion with not a weak link to be found in the cast. Collectively stunning and all deserving of allocates, there are some in particular I have to name.
Brian Gleeson gives a striking performance as John Proctor. A man who is sure of his faith, his own morals come into question over the course of the play in a performance that requires so much from the actor behind the character. Gleeson is a marvel embodying this, taking the audience on a journey from the cocksure Proctor we meet initially to the broken man as the play continues. Caitlin FitzGerald is equally good in a more understated and nuanced performance as John’s wife Elizabeth Proctor.
While comparatively late in his appearance, Henry Everett’s turn as Judge Hathorne dominates the second act in a commanding performance that matches the power his character has. Nick Fletcher gives a particularly vague impression as Reverend Samuel Parris’ whose conflicting ethics are captured brilliantly, while Fisayo Akinade stands out with a refreshingly emotional turn as Reverend John Hale. In a relatively small role but an immediate highlight, Nadine Higgin captures the hearts with her tragic and twisty turn as Tituba.
As the leader of the young girls, Milly Alcock is a wonder as Abigail Williams. In a character that can be unlikable throughout the course of the play, Milly channels every element of the character – one of the most fleshed out and well-rounded in the play. It may leave the audience questioning the motive and truth of the words and actions of Abigail but there is never any doubt about the quality of her performance. Among the younger girls, Nia Towle also stands out as Mary Warren while the other girls work fantastically as one unit, particularly when copying Abigails demonic interactions.
If there was a worry The Crucible might not land with the same impact in a West End theatre as it did at National Theatre last year, it turns out the opposite was true. If this show was very good last year (and it was as my 4 star review testified) it is even better this time around. When I have reviewed the same show on more than one occasion, very rarely would it get a different rating if it was essentially the same show. However, you will see momentarily I have gone for a different rating than I did last year this time around and that is for a couple of reasons.
This production of The Crucible works better in the space it is in now, with the more intimate nature allowing it to connect in an even deeper way that perhaps the vast space of the Olivier Theatre prevented slightly. Also, it is a lot more slicker this time around with cast members more in tune with their characters. This means performances that were already impressive in 2022 are on a whole other level in 2023. The staging, the direction, the production elements and indeed the cast makes The Crucible a show that impresses on all fronts and is a fitting addition to the legacy of Arthur Millers classic. I have reached my verdict and my judgement is that this show really is devilishly good. It might not have a long life in the West End but this is one you should definitely see while it carries out its sentence.
The Crucible plays at Gielgud Theatre until 2nd September. Tickets from https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/whats-on/the-crucible
Photos by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg