Written by Arthur Miller (ex-husband of Marilyn Monroe), The Crucible - probably memorable to readers of a certain age as a common late 1990s/early 2000s GCSE text - tells the story of a town gone mad with hysteria at the accusation of witchcraft in a small community, and a part-fictionalised account of the Salem witch trials.
Focusing on the young Abigail Williams, who, along with a small band of friends, seems to accuse almost an entire town of witchcraft, the play shows a court trying decide whether it is the accused who are practising some dark magic involving – gasp – dancing and nakedness, or whether Abigail has a hidden agenda and is meting out accusations as a way of gaining revenge.
Of course, there’s more to the story than mere witchcraft and finger pointing. Relationship breakdowns, adolescence, hysteria and societal pressure all contribute to make The Crucible a story that feels as relevant today as it was sixty years ago. Compare the witch-hunt to Twitter (or a particularly contentious Nottingham Post article) and you might just find more parallels than you care to imagine. This, of course keeps the story fresh for a new generation of audience, and one that will hopefully take to heart the cautionary tale Miller wrote into his retelling of one of the world’s most famous witch hunts.
Ably handled by director Jessica McLean, The People’s Theatre Company – did I notice one of Nottingham’s finest drag queen artists in the show? – provided an intense few hours, with strong performances throughout, although there was some line fluffing along the way, if we’re to be honest. Robert Goll was on top form as our protagonist John Proctor, as were Marina Kyriacou as Abigail and Malcolm Todd as Reverend Parris, both invoking within me a deep hatred of the characters; at times I had to bite my lip from shouting at Parris for his ridiculous, cowardly opinions. The set was kept sparse to allow us to focus on the acting and there were some really fraught moments that kept the audience truly captivated.
It’s hard to think, now, that anyone would believe this young women’s cries of witchcraft, yet at the time a whole community was absolutely struck with witch-fever. It’s a credit to The People’s Theatre Company that they managed to produce an atmospheric and tense retelling of a history that is in danger of repeating itself.
The Crucible was at Nottingham Arts Theatre from Wednesday 29 March to Saturday 1 April 2017.