Review: The Crucible at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

When The Crucible was first performed, on Broadway, in 1953, its playwright Arthur Miller felt the production was ‘too stylized and cold’, and reviews were hostile.
Laura Pyper, Geoffrey Aymer, Sid Sagar, Rose Shalloo, Andrew Macbean, Mark Weinman, Alexandra Mathie, Honor Kneafsey in The Crucible. Photos: Manuel HarlanLaura Pyper, Geoffrey Aymer, Sid Sagar, Rose Shalloo, Andrew Macbean, Mark Weinman, Alexandra Mathie, Honor Kneafsey in The Crucible. Photos: Manuel Harlan
Laura Pyper, Geoffrey Aymer, Sid Sagar, Rose Shalloo, Andrew Macbean, Mark Weinman, Alexandra Mathie, Honor Kneafsey in The Crucible. Photos: Manuel Harlan

Fast forward 70 years and it would be fascinating to know what Miller would make of this brutalist version of his enduring allegory.

A disarmingly sterile scene greets audiences arriving into, fittingly, the Crucible to take their seats.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The stage is bare. There is no scenery. Orange plastic utilitarian chairs are stacked in piles. A solitary office desk takes centre stage in the spot where a snooker table will soon stand.

Members of the Company in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel HarlanMembers of the Company in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Members of the Company in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel Harlan

It’s as though we’ve arrived too early, or perhaps too late, or the play is still in rehearsal – even more so when an actor saunters on without fanfare, adjusts his mic, opens a book and begins reading from Miller’s own scene-setting prologue.

It’s unsettling, sparse, a mix-up of time and expectation – exactly like the production itself.

This could be anywhere, any era – no more Salem’s 1692 witch trials or McCarthy’s 1950 witch hunts than the politics of division of today.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The new Sheffield Theatres’ production, which runs until March 3, is directed by associate assistant director Anthony Lau. As with his previous work The Good Person of Szechwan and, as co-director, Miss Saigon, Lau again brings a boldly fresh take to an established classic – though at times it’s tricky to establish quite what take he wishes audiences to understand.

Millicent Wong (Mary Warren) and members of the Company in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel HarlanMillicent Wong (Mary Warren) and members of the Company in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Millicent Wong (Mary Warren) and members of the Company in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Milk, both drunk and spilt, for example, plays a seemingly important role – but whether as a representation of lost purity and innocence, a substitute for blood, or a reminder of the dairy cows left wandering Salem after the town’s witch trials, it is difficult to say.

A giant lightbox displaying the word Crucible in capitals – a replica of the illuminated sign outside the theatre itself – fizzes claustrophobically above the stage.

Is it to remind us small-town prejudice, scapegoating and othering can happen just as easily in the melting pot of modern day Sheffield as in Salem or Cold War America? Or simply to highlight the giddy coincidence of staging this classic play in the iconic theatre of the same name?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Modern-day microphones, screeching with reverb, are deployed like the props of an evangelical preacher whipping followers into a frenzy. When, under Giles Thomas’ disquieting sound design, the dialogue is deliberately amplified, it is as hate speech from a religious fanatic, a social media troll or internet conspiracy theorist peddling poison without proof, their words bouncing around the echo chamber.

Anoushka Lucas (Elizabeth Proctor) and Simon Manyonda (John Proctor) in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel HarlanAnoushka Lucas (Elizabeth Proctor) and Simon Manyonda (John Proctor) in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Anoushka Lucas (Elizabeth Proctor) and Simon Manyonda (John Proctor) in The Crucible. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The talented cast, dressed not only in the puritanical cotton of the 17th century but in the three-piece suit of Senator McCarthy and the grey sweatpants of contemporary prison, achieve an extraordinary accomplishment.

There is simply so much dialogue, a formidable feat of memory and endurance, across three weighty hours of performance.

Simon Manyonda and Anoushka Lucas work tenderly together as proud John and Elizabeth Proctor. Ian Drysdale is suitably damnable as Judge Danforth, the Post Office Horizon scandal protagonist of his day, leading a witch-hunt of innocent people, unable to back down, for fear of showing up as lies all that had gone before.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But it’s Rose Shalloo who is truly chilling as sinister ringleader, Abigail Williams.

When she drops her mic, all insolent defiance and the reckless cruel confidence of youth, it’s enough to make your blood – or your milk – run cold.

Related topics: