On the final day of a successful run, I caught up with my favourite Arthur Miller play, this time staged at the tiny theatre just off Hackney Wick station, and directed by artistic director and founder of The Yard, Jay Miller.
A powerful play about the power of men, the subjection of women, and the dangers of propaganda and hysteria, The Crucible can be read in many ways from the #MeToo movement to the Brexit crisis.
Playing with gender norms, John Proctor, the male lead character of this play, is portrayed here by a woman, Caoilfhionn Dunne, who exhibits an intensity, a vulnerability, and a core of steel which comes together to make a deeply effective performance.
Dunne’s Proctor is supported by a small company who both pull this complex play together and plug the gaps left by not having all the characters present on stage when the play demands it (instead clever use of staging and sound choices keep things moving).
Nina Cassells as Abigail, Emma D’Arcy as Elizabeth Proctor, Lucy Vandi as Tituba and Rebecca Nurse, Jack Holden as Rev Hale and Sorcha Groundsell as Mary Warren are all superb, with the remainder of the cast making their mark (Jacob James Beswick as the Judges and Thomas Putnam especially repellent; Sophie Duval a rounded Giles Corey; Syrus Lowe as Parris, whose misplaced fear and vanity set the wheels of disaster in motion).
Cecile Tremolieres’ set design is deceptively simple; Oliver Cronk’s costumes move from the modern casual of the opening act, to period costume and eventually more contemporary pieces; and Josh Anio Grigg’s sound design fuses lullabies, electro and Roy Orbison to good effect.
It is Miller’s words that shine through, though, beginning from an overture which is a rehearsed read-through, to the hysteria of the later passages. With a woman as Proctor, we see the character in a slightly different light, and even Abigail appears more fearful and abused child than cunning whore.
This is an excellent and powerful production of a familiar classic, using space, sound, lighting (Jess Bernberg’s varied work with spotlights, strobes, candles and more) to bring the homes and rooms of Salem to life.
An emotional roller-coaster which definitely has relevance today, this is possibly the best Miller adaptation this year; certainly the best of the three I have seen so far this year.