Review by Daz Gale
A demon of a show is possessing National Theatre at the moment as Arthur Millers seminal classic The Crucible returns to London in an urgent new staging at the Olivier Theatre.
Debuting in 1953, The Crucible has been seen throughout the years in a number of adaptations on stage and screen. Inspired by the Salem witch trials, The Crucible is a parable of power and the abuse of said power. Set in 1692, it sees many of the women in the town accused of being aligned to the devil and trialled as such. As the play progresses, the attempts to convince people of the truth behind these accusation plays out, growing more desperate as time runs out.
The first thing to mention with this production is the stunning set design. Designed by Es Devlin, the first thing you see walking in to the theatre is a stage surrounding by falling water to resemble heavy rainfall. An immediately striking sight and a real feat in innovative stage design, it is truly glorious. This contrasts with the fairly bare bones staging throughout the piece with limited props moving around as the events transform. With a play like this though, more set pieces are not needed when you have a cast like this telling the story.
Erin Doherty stars as Abigail Williams who is the ringleader of a group of young girls. She gives a fantastic performance portraying the difficult character whose exaggerated outbursts never come across as comic. Among the group of young girls with her is Rachelle Deidricks who channels the conflicted Mary Warren with ease, providing some of the highlights of the show.
Brendan Cowell is an undoubted standout as John Proctor in a characterisation that requires immense versatility due to the changing mood and events that transpire Eileen Walsh provides the perfect counterpart to him as his wife Elizabeth, while Nick Fletcher gives a brash but memorable performance as Reverend Samuel Parris. An undoubted standout comes courtesy of Fisayo Akinade who is wonderful as Reverend John Hale. In a play where lines can be muddied and you are not always sure who you should trust, his character may be the only one whose intentions seem to be pure and unbiased – Fisayo does a truly sensational job portraying this.
The Crucible is an instance of theatre where every member of the large cast comes together to leave an impression, both individually and as a group. Whether they are a named character or a member of the ensemble, the 27 strong cast ensure the stage is bursting from talent in every corner and covering every inch with some of the best acting you are sure to find in the West End.
Arthur Millers writing remains exceptional and accessible 70 years later. While society may have moved on past accusing women of being witches (for the most part), the story itself somehow manages to not feel so unlikely. While the events of this happened 300 years ago and literal witch hunts are no longer a thing, the comparison to figurative witch hunts is inevitable. The themes still being relatable are played out subtly and make the whole thing even more thought provoking.
The play comes to life thanks to the expert direction from Lyndsey Turner who has created a truly gripping piece of theatre that was sure to have you on the edge of your seat at certain moments. Lighting design by Tim Lutkin brilliantly captures the directors vision of having action play out in the background. While characters recount certain events, the back of the stage is lit to show these events transpire fleetingly before being plunged into darkness again in a truly clever bit of staging. Striking costume design from Catherine Fay and strong sound from Paul Arditti ensure this is a strong production where every element comes together to create something consistently fantastic.
The verdict is in - The Crucible really is a devilishly good play. Reviving such an iconic classic such as this may prove risky in other circumstances, but with this team, it really was in safe hands. Genius staging, gorgeous set design and an incredible cast meant this was a true masterclass in storytelling and a resounding success in every witch way.
The Crucible plays at the Olivier Theatre until November 5th.
A live filming will be released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from January 26th 2023 and internationally from March 2nd 2023.
Tickets from https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/
Photos by Johan Persson