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Review: The Crucible at Storyhouse Chester *****

June 20, 2018

As someone once said – for evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.

But here in Arthur Miller’s chilling allegory, it turns out that sometimes even good men, when finally roused to act, can’t stop the wave of evil from engulfing all around them.

Students of history will know that despite our knowledge of the past, it will keep repeating itself. Miller’s dramatic recreation of the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials was a piquant comment on post-war McCarthyism in which he was a reluctant a 20th century John Proctor.

But it’s commentary is just as salient in 2018 – with the addition of mob persecution by social media. Imagine the scale of decimation if Abigail Williams and her coven had had access to Twitter!

It’s 1692 and a silly night of dabbling in black magic by Williams and her friends starts a chain of events which eventually lead to the execution of 20 innocent villagers.

The flames are kindled by one man’s weakness and fanned by a spurned girl’s revenge.

 

Matthew Flynn is a big, solid physical presence (he’s got the build of Bryn Terfel) as plain-dealing farmer Proctor, perhaps one of the more unlikely butterflies to be broken on the wheel of the trials driven by the accusations of the hard-faced, attention-seeking Williams (Eleanor Sutton) – Proctor’s former servant with whom he has committed adultery.

This new production at Storyhouse is a dark, simmering cauldron of small-town envy, grievance, bigotry, gossip, zeal and superstition – the gloomy, dark-timbered, drab-garmented atmosphere made the more oppressive by composer Simon Slater’s sinister soundscape and by real-life midsummer heat.

A good Crucible is no good for the blood pressure, and director Geraldine Alexander’s will certainly have your pulse thrumming away in indignant, helpless rhythm as the ridiculous but contagious mania cuts frustrating swathes through the good, and not so good, folk of Salem, Massachusetts.

While Proctor and Williams form the dramatic narrative heart of the piece, there are excellent performances all round in this large Storyhouse Rep cast, from the actresses playing the girls relishing being the centre of attention to Simeon Truby’s naïve and bewildered old landowner Giles Corey to Martin Turner’s menacingly calm Thomas Danforth, the urbane Massachusetts politician sent to oversee the trials, and who believes: “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against it.”

Frightening, frustrating, fascinating stuff.

 

 

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