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The Crucible

By Arthur Miller

Royal Exchange Theatre, 23 September 2015

Jonjo O'Neill as John Proctor in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange. Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Jonjo O’Neill as John Proctor in The Crucible at the Royal Exchange. Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Arthur Miller’s classic play gleams darkly in a compelling production at the Royal Exchange.

Among the many fine performances, Tim Steed as Reverend Hale, Jonjo O’Neill (John Proctor) and Peter Guiness as Judge Thomas Danforth especially caught my eye. The set and dress are spare, stripped-back, almost nondescript, but taken together they sculpture a story rich with resonance and relevance.

He wrote a play about witchcraft in Salem in the seventeenth century, did Miller, and it remains an intricate, engrossing study of how accusations go viral, persecutions spiral out of control. One can relate it to McCarthy’s contemporaneous uncovering of communists in high places (the play was first performed in 1953) or to the Stalinist terror of 1938 or even, perhaps, to the proliferation of sexual abuse allegations against public figures in our own day. In its best moments the play considers what counts as evidence or proof and how we are to decide, one way or another, on guilt or innocence. When you have a fixed belief – say, that witches exist – you can find evidence of it anywhere; and any one voice raised in objection is likely to be met with accusation. Fear reigns.

The Crucible is showing at the Royal Exchange until 24 October, further details can be found here.

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