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The Crucible at the Old Vic theatre

Published 4 July 2014

What’s it all about?

Some might say witches, some might say McCarthyism. I’ll say Arthur Miller’s tragic portrayal of a community consumed by hysteria when claims of witchcraft are hurled like psychological hand-grenades by a group of malicious minors.

Who’s in it?

Richard Armitage, better known for his screen work in Spooks and The Hobbit these days than for his stage past, returns to board treading, leading the cast as John Proctor, a man whose previous extra-marital dalliance lies at the heart of the community’s sudden black magic epidemic.

His Proctor is an imposing, prowling, growling figure with more rough edges than an Elizabethan neck-piece maker. Paradoxically brimming with pride and power while haunted by shame and remorse, he is constantly balancing on a tipping point, ready to explode with fury or collapse under the pressure of his principles.

Adrian Schiller brings a disconcertingly calm air of sense and reliability to Reverend Hale, the churchman called in to unearth Salem’s witches.

In her professional stage debut, Samantha Colley imbues ringleader Abigail Williams with layer upon layer of anger and hatred, giving this most dislikeable of characters an impudent swagger and air of untouchability that normally only comes with mob bosses… or teenagers.

What should I watch out for?

Director Yaël Farber’s dark and richly atmospheric scene changes and beginnings. This is a long production – three and a half hours – and these wordless episodes add to the running time, but I would not remove a second, such are their beauty and impact.

The striking lighting design by 2014 Olivier Award winner Tim Lutkin that creates the shadows and haunted spaces in which Miller’s drama can unfold.

The synchronised movements, frozen eyes and hideous contortion of the show’s witch-crying girls, which comes straight out of The Shining or Village Of The Damned.

In a nutshell?

Armitage proves a colossal presence at the heart of a chillingly atmospheric revival of Miller’s classic.

Who was in the press night crowd?

A few guardians of Middle Earth were out in support of their The Hobbit colleague Armitage; Orlando Bloom and Sir Ian McKellen. Stage stars Roger Allam, Fiona Shaw, Haydn Gwynne, Niamh Cusack and Sherlock’s Andrew Scott were also out in force for the in-the-round production.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@eye_patches Saw #TheCrucible tonight @oldvictheatre – most magnificent piece of theatre I’ve seen.

@SarahwRose I have no words to describe how brilliant @oldvictheatre production #TheCrucible was. If you have time to see 1 play this season, see it.

Will I like it?

Like is a tough word to use for this play that sees an entire town taken in by the antics of children and a man who, despite his wrongs, is good at heart forced to put his principles on the line. With darkness never far away, both figuratively and in reality, at times you’re desperate to shake some sense into people, while at others you simply want to sit back and marvel at the beauty of the production’s design. But it is never far from exhilarating, barely lets you take a relaxed breath and three and a half hours have rarely charged by so swiftly.


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