I could write countless pages analyzing The Crucible, the themes and symbolism make my literature-graduate brain cry with joy and shiver at the thought of potential essay topics. I will keep it simple though: The Crucible is a fascinating study of faith, deception, manipulation and, above all, self hood.
The story is simple and pretty much known: the year is 1692 and in Salem, Massachusetts, a number of girls are having hallucinations and fever. Since we’re in Puritan New England, superstition and fear prevail and the first allegations are made. Soon the villagers start accusing each other of witchcraft and summoning the devil. The outcome of these accusations is a relentless witch hunt and the execution of nineteen people. That’s the historical context, but I do urge you to research it on your own since it’s really interesting and thought provoking. Miller wrote the play in the 1950s, and it can be read as an allegory to the Communist paranoia McCarthyism sparked. The Crucible, however, is timeless.
I read The Crucible about five year ago, when I was going through my Arthur Miller phase. A word of advice: never judge a play unless you’ve seen it performed on stage, this applies to all drama, from Shakespeare to David Mamet. The text simply changes, it comes alive and it’s very different. On paper, The Crucible is powerful. On stage, however, it becomes unstoppable.
The play ran from June to September at The Old Vic. The reviews were ranged from positive to triumphant and I was filled with envy as back then I was working on my dissertation and simply couldn’t take a couple of days off and actually go to London (no matter how much I wanted to…). Last week, however, The Crucible became available for digital download via the Digital Theatre. I downloaded the HD version and it was worth it!
I’m sure many people thought “oh, Richard Armitage is in it”, the same way so many people thought “TOM HIDDLESTON STARS IN CORIOLANUS, LOKI!!! LET’S BUY ALL THE TICKETS!!” and the tickets sold out in the first ten minutes (I still can’t get over it…I ended up watching a live-streaming show with Georgia). I’m sure many people came for Armitage, but left with Miller in their mind.
Yaël Farber’s direction makes Miller’s play shine. The setting is minimalist, but not modernized (I am a bit cautious of modernized adaptations, although I’m not against them when done right) and this simplicity helps the build up of a harrowing and suffocating tension that isn’t resolved until the very last scene of the play. I don’t want to focus too much on the technicalities, but the lighting and the use of darkness is amazing!
Armitage’s take on John Proctor is electrifying and I will be so disappointed if he doesn’t win the Olivier award (I should probably point out that my love for Richard Armitage is not a secret…). The challenge with playing Proctor is to balance his one sin (his affair with Abigail) and his general morality. Proctor repents and suffers, he has flaws, but he carries their burden and eventually redeems himself. Armitage knows how to handle the complexity of Proctor’s character. He conveys his guilt with just a single look, he fights to keep his honour, his presence is both terrifying yet reassuring and his final scene is probably the best performance of his career. When he screams “I have given you my soul; leave me my name” towards the end of the play, I was already in tears. Yes, Armitage is the star of the play, but that doesn’t mean that all the other performances are forgettable, quite the opposite, all the cast is in tune and give amazing performances. For instance, the court scene is astonishing, the girls show a synchronized physicality that left me speechless, Abigail is hateful yet captivating, Deputy Governor Danforth is a true villain and reverend Hale shows a heart-breaking humanity.
The Crucible is a complex play. It can be read both within and out of its historical context. Its main themes (the strength and irrationality of one’s faith, how one can be both moral and immoral, the power of mob psychology, multiple levels of victimization) are relevant and can apply to any historical context. I urge you all to download the play and spend three hours full of amazing performances, a roller coaster of emotions and Miller’s timeless words.