The Crucible

by Arthur Miller

Richard Armitage stars in Arthur Miller’s classic American drama brought vividly to life in this visceral new production.

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I’ve seen Arthur Miller’s great play many times before, but it has never mesmerised and moved me quite like Yaël Farber’s revival manages to do here. (...) she stays faithful to Miller’s text and to his setting of the Salem witch trials in 1692 Massachusetts.

Yet she makes us feel not so much that we are watching the play but that we are part of it. “A drama cannot merely describe an emotion,” Miller wrote in his autobiography, “it has to become that emotion.” And Farber makes palpable these settlers’ paranoia and power games but also the deprivation and repression from which they spring.

(...) Miller’s perfect plotting and some precise, physical acting draw us into a world where innocence is no defence, where the only way to defend yourself against the system is to join the system.

Miller was spurred to write this 1953 play as an allegory of the McCarthyite paranoia of the time. Yet as first Adrian Schiller’s punctilious Reverend Hale and then Jack Ellis’s casually invincible Judge Danforth prod for any signs of dissent — two entirely different but equally powerful performances, flecked with wit — this speaks volumes about any absolutist regime. There are no entirely good or entirely bad characters here; just people striving for status or survival.

Armitage leads with passion as Proctor: it’s big acting, but Farber gives him the context for it. His scenes with his wife (Anna Madeley) have a repressed passion whose eventual release is overwhelming. (...) 

The Times

 

Great plays can change their meaning with the passing of time and shifts in attitudes. (...) Arthur Miller’s (...) account of the 17th-century witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts was inspired by the paranoia about Communists whipped up by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

These days, however, this superb play strikes different notes. It now seems to be about the present danger of religious fundamentalism, and of the mindset of those who believe that they should kill in the name of God.

In her thrilling production at the Old Vic, which lasts three and a half hours but never loosens its dramatic grip, the South African director Yaël Farber doesn’t labour the point but trusts the audience to make its own connections with our own troubled times. The drama is staged with a mixture of simplicity and dramatic power that builds up an ominous feeling of dread and fear.

As a result this harrowing play achieves the intensity of a thriller, as the girls under the malign spell of their ringleader Abigail Williams (a memorably sinister Samantha Colley), accuses countless decent people in the village of witchcraft. Only gradually does it become clear that Abigail has her own motives for revenge.

(...) Richard Hammarton’s foreboding sound score, with its electronic growls and rumbles, ratchets up the tension like a horror movie.

There is nothing flashy about the staging, which has a stark simplicity. The director creates a feeling of night about the piece helped by Tim Lutkin’s shadowy lighting, conjuring the dread of a bad dream from which you can’t awake.

One of the strongest features of the production is the performances of the teenage girls who make the lurid allegations of witchcraft. (...) There is an authentic edge of collective hysteria about them.

Richard Armitage, best known for TV dramas and The Hobbit movies, proves an exhilarating stage actor, with blazing eyes and a righteous fury about him, as well as manifest decency. (...)

But even the smallest roles come to full-blooded life in a production of electrifying intensity.

The Telegraph

 

Productions of Arthur Miller's re-creation of the Salem witch hunt tend to be as flinty and hard-edged as the author's prose. But the South African Yaël Farber, director of an acclaimed Mies Julie, has come up with an extraordinary production that preserves the integrity of Miller's language while investing the action with a raw, visceral power I've never witnessed.

You sense from the dark, dreamlike opening that this is a community on the edge of disintegration. Panic and fear pervade (...)

Everything that subsequently happens develops from this initial mood of frenzied suspicion. In the scenes between Proctor and his wife, the air is thick with recrimination and, when it comes to the courtroom, all hell is let loose (...)

(...) everything about this production is of a piece, from the distressed walls of Soutra Gilmour's set – clearly derived from Paris's Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord – to the subliminal creepiness of Richard Hammarton's music and sound. Richard Armitage (...) admirably conveys Proctor's mix of muscularity and guilt and Anna Madeley is excellent as his quietly accusatory wife. There is strong support from Jack Ellis as a ferocious, ramrod-backed judge, Adrian Schiller as an ultimately penitent cleric, along with Rebecca Saire and Ann Firbank as the respective embodiments of superstition and sanity in a ravaged community. It's tremendous production of a play that (...) retains its disturbing relevance.

The Guardian

 

Yael Farber's mesmerising production of Arthur Miller's great play unfolds with the sick dread of a horrible dream from which you are powerless to awake. (...)

Farber's revival brings the nightmare madness home to us with an extraordinary physical intensity, a masterly feel for the different emotional rhythms in Miller's scenes and a tension that is brilliantly sustained over the show's three-and-a-half hours running time.

The audience sits on all four sides of Soutra Gilmour's spare set, giving the proceedings an unremitting intimacy of focus and creating the impression that the protagonists are in a crucible that is reducing them to their essence.  The dark atmosphere of foreboding is augmented by Richard Hammarton's sound score with its ominous rumbles and distant clankings.

(...)

The teenage girls are truly terrifying in their seizures of self-imposed, hair-thrashing, convulsive hysteria and finger-pointing accusation, intimidated into these paroxysms by Samantha Colley's bullying Abigail, the servant who had an affair with John Proctor and, now spurned, is out for vengeance.

Richard Armitage brings a powerfully imposing presence and a ferociously passionate contrarian spirit to this farmer who is haunted with guilt about his marital infidelity but who summons the courage to resist the temptation to save his own life by naming names. (...)

Anna Madeley invests his wife (...) with a very moving, pained dignity.  One of the most gutting aspects of the play is the way that this couple find their love each other again only in the climate of paranoia that dooms them and their final meeting here is almost unbearable to watch in its quiet depth of feeling.

There isn't a weak link in Farber's 24-strong ensemble (...)

Unmissable.

The Independent

 

This revival of Arthur Miller’s great play, by South African director Yaël Farber, is astonishing. The production has a bold simplicity yet grips like the most complex thriller.

(...) Farber makes the play feel urgent and immediate — and does so by refusing to hurry. The action’s wilful slowness is often exhilarating, and the performances pulse with bruising physicality. 

Richard Armitage is John Proctor, a fierce and earthy farmer who has cheated on his wife Elizabeth (Anna Madeley) with their servant Abigail Williams. (...)

Armitage at first smoulders, all dark looks and muscular seriousness. Later he blazes, raging against the paranoid insanity that engulfs him — and also against his own fallibility. Meanwhile Madeley brings a tense restraint to Elizabeth, capturing her wounded sense of virtue. Their intimate moments wrench the heart.

There’s superb support. (...) And Soutra Gilmour’s spare design, Tim Lutkin’s lighting and Richard Hammarton’s brooding sound combine to create a tormented, shadowy atmosphere (...) The Crucible is an absorbing and ultimately devastating experience. It taxes the mind but also spears you in the guts.

Evening Standard

 

Arthur Miller’s incendiary play may be set during the witch trials of 17th century Salem but its metaphorical reach stretches far beyond its original allegory of the Communist witch hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950s America. On one level, the intractability of religious fundamentalists is the most obvious parallel; but the subtext, that good people can be tainted by unfounded accusations motivated by jealousy and spite is also evident.

As the menacing growl of Richard Hammarton’s soundscape introduces a long wordless opening in which black servant Tituba (Sarah Niles) steps ritually around the central playing area with a sinisterly smoking bowl, Yael Farber’s production grips like a pitbull.

Simply staged, with furniture brought on when necessary, it is an object lesson in discreet direction. Everything is focused on the actors and the text. (...) Farber has wit enough to know that the play will speak for itself.

The inclusion of screen actor Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, Captain America) might have unbalanced a lesser ensemble but his presence only adds weight to an already exceptional cast. As John Proctor, the virile farmer whose one night stand with servant girl Abigail (Samantha Colley) triggers the deadly events that follow, Armitage commands the stage without overwhelming everyone else. (...)

There is an embarrassment of fine performances - from William Gaunt’s woundingly proud old man Giles Corey to Ann Firbank’s rational peacemaker Rebecca Nurse and from Adrian Schiller’s conscience-stricken Reverend Hale To Harry Attwell’s apoplectic Thomas Putnam.

(...) If it was my least favourite Miller play this visceral, thrilling production has changed my mind. It is what great theatre is all about. Don’t miss it.

 

The Express

 

Three-and-a-half-hours engulf your soul like a black mass in this titanic, ritualistic production of Arthur Miller’s tragedy about the Salem witch trials from hot property South African director Yaël Farber. (...)

For the most part, Farber does nothing more revolutionary than provide Miller’s text the amount of space it needs: there’s no sense of time wasted, it’s more that every word has been considered and given its due weight, and there is a harshly beautiful ebb and flow to everything, a sense that the doom of this small Massachusetts town is closing in like clockwork. The speaking – in harsh Yorkshire accents – is painful, blunt and clear, Richard Hammarton’s unsettling string and drone-based score punctuates it perfectly, Tim Lutkin’s monochrome lights add to the feel of unforgiving Old Testament reality. Everything else is pared away – there’s austere period costume, but no set to speak of. This is a granite hard, precision cut, intensely atmospheric production that transcends the original context of the play – an allegory for McCarthyism – expanding it into a weighty examination of the human capacity for irrational hatred.

At the centre stands Richard Armitage’s John Proctor, a hard man in a hard world. (...) his flinty handsomeness and sheer, rugged presence is key: he is a driven, determined man, an unstoppable force, colliding with the immovable object that is the Salem community, which has been stirred to murderous hysteria by a combination of petty grievance, superstitious nonsense, an unaccountable judiciary and a refusal to believe that the group of young girls naming townsfolk as witches may be lying. (...)

It is operatic, it is immense, it is – after the Young Vic’s ‘A View from the Bridge’ – the second definitive Miller production London has seen this year: the lengthy first half flew by, and yet I was grateful for an interval just to steady myself; by the end I was pretty much broken.

Time Out

 

In a production of stunning intensity it’s the quiet moments that get you most. Into the middle of a raging argument in the Proctors’ kitchen come two silent, shell-shocked old men: their wives have been charged with witchcraft. We’ve met one of them earlier in the play – Rebecca Nurse, a kindly old woman of consummate wisdom; we, like the characters, realise this is the point of no return. It’s a moment of sickening terror, handled beautifully by the cast in Yaël Farber’s magnificent staging.

Arthur Miller’s haunting masterpiece about the Salem witch hunts is sadly never out of date. Written in response to the McCarthyite hysteria in 1950s America, it serves as a timeless warning about the power of paranoia. Farber, wisely, leaves it in its context: a hardworking, God-fearing, rural 17th-century community (only the accents shift, to northern England). Staged, simply, in the round, the play fuses the particular with the parable. (...)

Miller’s genius is to show the way personal grief, guilt or greed feed into hysteria. His agent on stage is John Proctor, a decent man, who, riven with guilt over his brief affair with Abigail, knows her well enough to spot her intentions. Richard Armitage’s Proctor is a gruff, bearlike individual, tormented by his slip from grace and movingly matched by Anna Madeley as his wife, frozen in hurt. Their personal journey towards mutual forgiveness pulls against the gathering darkness elsewhere and proves very moving here.

(...)

Financial Times

 

(...) The Old Vic is having a season in the round. So the audience encircle the fine, dark design of (yes, she again) Soutra Gilmour. The stage is sometimes lit by lantern glimmers but often filled with darkness, penetrated by swirls of smoke. You might be sitting around a cauldron; you might be taking part in a witches' sabbath.

(...) The play looks newly acute about religious fundamentalism, and the way a sexual encounter between a young girl and an older man can come back to haunt him. Its eloquence about the unreliability of confessions made under duress also strikes with fresh force.

Richard Armitage, another Hobbit escapee, is the man agonised by the knowledge of his infidelity to his wife and now trying to be faithful to his friends. He is, though sometimes hoarse, impressive both when forceful and when nearly broken. Anna Madeley, peaky but determined, is utterly truthful as the wronged wife about whose heart "an everlasting funeral marches". The young female accusers lash themselves into a frenzy with panther sinuosity and some unforgettable synchronised hair-swishing. Miller's examination of sexual repression – frigidity, hysteria, betrayal, guilt – is shown in all its complicated coherence.

It's an engrossing, fiery evening (...)

The Observer

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