Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Crucible

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Everything is laid bare in John Dove's production of Arthur Miller's all too timely fable of new puritanism and how a divide and rule ideology can damn us all. It happens between the cracks of the bare floorboards of designer Michael Taylor's spartan set. It's there too in the skeletal framework that surrounds it flanked with barren trees. Most of all it's there in the hearts and minds of Miller's small town rural society that's ripped asunder by secrets and lies. Once exposed, the mass hysteria these provoke destroys everyone who claims any kind of moral high-ground.

Fear is at the heart of Miller's seventeenth century story in which solitary farmer John Proctor goes to the gallows along with most of Salem after his illicit liaison with Abigail Williams kickstarts a witchhunt. It's a fear of sex, books, dancing and all those things that might enlighten us enough to see through an oppressive regime that would rather control its subjects than foster anything resembling community or joy.

As played by Philip Cairns, who leads one of the largest casts the Royal Lyceum has hosted in recent times, Proctor here seems more saintly than alpha-male. This creates a more complex, less black and white dynamic, both with Irene Allan's Elizabeth Proctor and with Meghan Tyler's Abigail. It also points up Proctor's own weakness, the consequences of which he only fully comes to terms with once it's too late.

Such understatement is a double-edged sword, so at times there's a lack of urgency onstage. Despite this, modern parallels aren't hard to spot. The manufactured hysteria caused in part by the attention-seeking antics of Abigail and her entourage would today be the stuff of tabloid headlines plastered in our faces as a distraction from things that matter. Either that or a barrage of social media abuse would be forthcoming. With twenty-one people onstage, it's facinating during some fine set-pieces watching the faces of those not speaking for clues. In this sense, and as ever with Miller, the devil is in the detail.

The Herald, February 22nd 2016

ends

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