First written by playwright Arthur Miller in 1953 and directed by Olivier Award-winning director Lyndsey Turner, The Crucible recreates the story of the Salem witch trials, where over 200 people were accused and 19 executed for the alleged crime.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts in the year of 1692, The Crucible depicts a town that is entirely upturned as rumours of witchcraft and devil worship spread through its residents like wildfire.
The stage is surrounded by an installation of running water, meant to evoke the sensation of rainfall. The rain clears opening the scene of a room where a young girl named Betty lays still and unresponsive on a bed.
Abigail, played by House of the Dragon star Milly Alcock, serves as the main antagonist and schemer, who spins a web of lies and deceit, which begins the trajectory of the unfortunate events that unfold.
Abigail, whose uncle is a priest of high standing, quickly devises a story to account for Betty’s strange behaviour, as she occasionally breaks her slumber wrought with fright of witchcraft, claiming it to be the work of witchcraft by others.
Soon Reverend Hale, played by Fisayo Akinade, arrives with a relatively open mind and a mission to rid Betty of whatever ails her.
However, accusations soon begin to fly, and soon the enslaved Barbados-born Tituba is the first to be accused of the alleged crime.
Nadine Higgin delivers a gripping performance of Tituba, as she is accused of witchcraft on account of her Barbadian heritage.
Her performance shows how quickly a person’s resolve can waver in the face of mortality, as she is forced to make a false confession of witchcraft in a desperate bid to save her life, falsely naming others of the same crime in the process.
Her performance moved me and really highlighted how ordinary people can get caught up in other’s corrupt abuse of power and fall prey to it so easily.
Tituba’s “confession” serves as the catalyst for others to be accused of their crimes, including Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Elizabeth Proctor, wife of John Proctor.
However, we discover that Abigail plays a huge hand in Elizabeth Proctor’s downfall, after she was thrown out of the Proctor House she once worked for following an affair with Elizabeth’s husband, John.
The use of Olivier Award-nominated lighting creates a stark contrast between the characters illuminated by light against a dark background, giving the performance an almost Shakespearian quality.
The lighting really evokes this sense of loneliness, desperation and grappling with one’s own moral compass, during what is now considered one of humankind’s darkest moments in history.
This play relies heavily on the use of acting and dialogue to move the story along, with long periods centred around one scene.
There is very little movement between scenes during the play, with scenes changing a few times throughout the two and a half hour performance.
As the play moves into the second half, the stakes have risen higher with a large number of Salem’s residents now imprisoned for the believed crime of witchcraft.
However, it is not just fear and superstition that drives the accusers, but also acts of greed and jealousy, as envious landowners covet the lands of those they accuse.
The play gives a sense of desperation, as a chorus of girls holding lanterns join the scene to punctuate those dark moments and give a sense of foreboding.
The judges have to grapple between duty and morality as they work fervently to separate the wrongly accused from those they believe to be practising the art of witchcraft.
John Proctor lobbies the judges along with the husbands of the accused Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne.
However, their efforts go ignored as Abigail continues to work her magic on them, aided by a group influenced girls.
The plot builds to a climax as John Proctor, accused of witchcraft himself, faces a decision between confession and wrongly accusing others to act as scapegoat, or standing firm and accepting his fate as his execution looms.
Brian Gleeson gives a gripping performance as John Proctor as he sits trembling, grappling between the choice of tarnishing his own name and sending others to their deaths, or remaining silent and accepting his fate.
In the end he decides his fate and a heavily pregnant Elizabeth Proctor, also awaiting execution until the birth of her fourth child, refuses to take her husband’s goodness away now that he has made his decision.
The play is a gritty depiction of just how fragile society and moral obligation is when pitted against our own mortality.
The people within the Crucible expose the soft underbelly of our society and what humans are capable of doing if our own lives were to hang in the balance.
All in all, the Crucible is a tremendous piece of acting that really shows it is human corruption and power we should fear instead of witchcraft.
The Crucible will be playing at the Gielgud Theatre for a limited run up until September 2.