There’s no denying that Lindsay Turner’s staging of The Crucible – complete with a water feature and expansive, elongated set design from Es Devlin – is engrossing and impressive in appearance, but this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s popular play otherwise lacks substance. It exists, but despite its physical range on the Olivier, it does little to provoke much thought, or transcend the stage as a wider sociopolitical commentary.
Sure, it may well just be the general fact that accusing women of witchcraft and killing them, as well as the patriarchy, is Very Bad, but it just doesn’t feel strongly put across in a play which is almost three hours in length, including the interval.
It has its moments, of course – there’s a clever direction in early scenes where a group of girls sit in chairs upstage, sprinting forward into scenes ‘as and when required’ (a smart nod to the oppressive view about women at the time) – but its commentary and wider ideas feel almost bookended in its narrative.
John Proctor’s (Brendan Cowell) decision to take the blame amid all the speculation over whether a bunch of Salem girls are witches – that’s what The Crucible boils down to, by the way – feels like an opportunity to highlight how patriarchal oppression crumbles when the devices used against women at that time are applied to a man, but the flaws in the court’s ideology and their cognitive bias isn’t as underscored as it could have been throughout. It’s easy to zone out in the first act when such small scenes and dialogues are gently acted out on a towering set, sticking out in contrast with the otherwise rapid transitions and drives of the characters, and the eerie element of secrecy as the children are lit up upstage.
Take Abigail Williams (Erin Doherty), who acts with a grin which fails to hide a deeper animosity to anyone who dares challenge her. While others have a more rigid, upright poster, her neck and face cranes slightly forward as she speaks, always fluid, dynamic and energetic in her thoughts and movements. The second act taps into this better, when it descends into a barbed back-and-forth courtroom drama. The acting is rich and gripping, and the staging gorgeous, but for those wishing for something beyond the aesthetics, I fear this Crucible falls short. Its enigmatic nature and the desire to find out the truth is just about enough to keep you invested, but there remains a sense that it could have explored something bigger.
The Crucible is now playing at the Olivier Theatre until 5 November. It will have an NT Live broadcast in cinemas on 26 January 2023.
Captioned performances are scheduled to take place on 8 October, 14 October and 1 November. A British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performance will take place on 24 October.
Audio-described performances will occur on 13 and 22 October, while a relaxed performance is scheduled for 29 October.
Production Images: Johan Persson.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Crucible’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.