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The Crucible at The Old Vic

Alice Dickerson

A terrifying and entirely believable rendition of Miller's best known work.

The Crucible suffers from the strange misfortune of having been (is it still?) a key text on the school curriculum; awareness is therefore often higher than appreciation, countless teenagers having been forced to read it. This is a shame – it is one of the most significant plays of the twentieth century. And in the right hands, it is one of the most powerful plays you can see on stage.

And of course it is in the right hands with The Old Vic. Part of the theatre's in the round season, Yaël Farber's production pulls the audience in to an utterly terrifying world of false accusations, fear and hysteria. The senses are instantly heightened; the chants of the large cast echo around the theatre as they move amongst the audience, and the stage is darkly lit even though the actors are dressed largely in black. Even the air is musty.

Within this ominous and oppressive setting, the cast deliver almost faultless performances. The young girls whose lies lead to the deaths of innocents writhe hypnotically on stage as they become possessed by their own delusions. Richard Armitage, as the flawed but noble John Proctor, imbues the character with just the right amount of gravitas; Armitage is clearly wasted on the silver screen, where he is better know. But it is Samantha Colley as Abigail Williams who steals the show; she is truly terrifying (despite this being her stage debut).

It often worthwhile having a flick through The Old Vic's theatre programmes – they always provide detailed context you may otherwise not be aware of (even if you were compelled to study the play at school). I had not realised that, only two decades after the Salem trials, the state of Massachusetts compensated the victims and their families, realising what a terrible error had been made. This knowledge provides you with a glimmer of hope after witnessing such terror unfold on stage.

The one flaw in this production of The Crucible is that it is perhaps too long; its power would not be diminished were it a bit shorter. Three and a half hours immersed in the bleakness of Salem is challenging; the one moment of light-heartedness came when John Procter asserts that 'The Pure in heart need no lawyers'. Yet a few more moments for a play that has this much impact is forgivable. If only every school child had the chance to see it brought to life on stage rather than confined to a classroom.

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