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The Crucible - Gielgud Theatre (UK)

Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Lyndsey Turner.


Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Gielgud Theatre, London Until 2nd September, 2023


4 STARS


- Arthur Miller's script is given a conventional rendition, led by a powerhouse cast in London's West End -


Transferring from the National Theatre to London’s West End, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible arrives for theatre goers to explore the depth of nuance of Miller’s exploration of religious paranoia and falsehood. The Witch Hunts of Salem still holds resonance to our modern times and director Lyndsey Turner uses her actors to bring this to the forefront of their dialogue in her interpretation of Miller’s script.


Miller’s script can be a tough nut to crack for most directors and an even tougher slog for audiences due to its weighty script. Thankfully, the National Theatre’s The Crucible is led by a stunning cast, featuring Australia’s own Milly Alcock as the young Abigail at the centre of the mischief.


The cast of National Theatre's The Crucible. Photo Brinkhoff-Moegenburg


It takes great control and perseverance to resist from layering on modern ideas of cancel culture or fake news onto Miller’s script. In that sense, Turner’s Crucible is conventional in her approach to the characters. Catherin Fay’s costume design shows the town’s New England workman lifestyle. Brian Gleeson’s John Proctor is a workman through and through. His rough accent and worn clothing shows a man who has to work on the Sabbath to care for the land he owns. The young girls of Salem are dressed in country lifestyle gowns, frilly and pink, apart from Alcock’s beige, a sign of Abigail being a leader to the young women, and also a danger.


Starting with a prologue (or overture as per the program) that briefly explains the purpose of Miller’s play when written attempts to add another layer to how Turner wants audiences to view the play. Whilst clunky, it would be a welcome introduction to those new to Miller’s iconic piece. Set designer Es Devlin provides the show’s “wow factor”, a towering cascade of rain, as audiences enter. Alluding to the heavens quite literally opening up on the town of Salem and washing away their sins, the theatre is given a chilly atmosphere and the mood is very thoroughly set. If only this stunning set piece were worked into the rest of the play!


The rest of the set is raised on an angle, with everything slanting down towards the audience giving way for Turner to add ghostly images of the young girls of Salem dancing in the background, or an ominous chorus of Church singers gathering in paranoid prayer. Everything is, quite literally, off kilter in the town of Salem.


This is the perfect entrance to Miller’s work.

Tim Lutkin’s dark and often gothic lighting brings a Stephen King quality to the atmosphere, which is in stark contrast to the second act’s courtroom scene which is brightly lit. This shows the characters in all their flaws, but also at their most human. Alcock’s Abigail is a young girl who has been taken advantage of by Gleeson’s Proctor, her jealousy of Elizabeth Proctor (Caitlin FitzGerald) bubbles underneath the surface, but never fully explodes on stage. She has just as much to lose as Proctor does.


Gleeson gives a depth of emotion to John Proctor and overcomes the challenge of siding with a married man who has seduced a teenage servant. Gleeson is resolute as Proctor, bringing a charisma and brash energy in his restoration of faith and pleas to keep his name clean. Set opposite FitzGerald’s more proud Elizabeth, she is emotionally distant yet wholly dignified throughout.


It’s Matthew Marsh’s Judge Danforth that gives the second act an electric charge. Marsh brings a much needed catalyst to overcome the droning music throughout the play. With a voice that quite literally fills the stage, Marsh lifts each character he acts opposite, destroying their being or pointing an accusatory finger at their lies.


Karl Johnson brings comic relief as the elderly, biting Giles, cutting through the muck of deception to speak truth. The rest of the large cast are left to wander around the scenes, either looking in on the deception or adding to the paranoia through hysteric cries of the devil or witchcraft.


The National Theatre’s latest version of The Crucible doesn’t revolutionise Miller’s script, instead brings a conventional touch to the piece, allowing the actors to upheave the resonating undertones and themes throughout. If you’ve not seen The Crucible before, this is the perfect entrance to Miller’s work.

 

The Crucible - National Theatre


CREATIVES

Director Lyndsey Turner

Set Designer Es Devlin

Costume Designer Catherine Fay

Lighting Designer Tim Lutkin

Sound Designer (Content Design) Tingying Dong

Sound Designer (System Design) Christopher Shutt

Composer and Arranger Caroline Shaw

Music Director and Arranger Osnat Schmool

Casting Alastair Coomer CDG

Casting Naomi Downham

Associate Director Blythe Stewart

Associate Set Designer Ellie Wintour

Associate Lighting Designer Max Narula

Fight Director Bret Yount

Intimacy Director Ita O'Brien for Intimacy On Set

Intimacy Director Louise Kempton for Intimacy On Set

Dialect Coach Danièle Lydon

Dialect Coach Hazel Holder

Voice and Dialect Coach Kate Godfrey

Assistant Music Director Alice Grant

Resident Director Sophie Dillon Moniram




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