As the final play of its winter season (before diving headlong into Shakespeare’s complete canon), the RSC could hardly have chosen a more appropriate time to perform its first main stage production of Miller’s The Crucible. I scarcely need bear out this classic work’s contemporary relevance, but there is also something undeniably timeless about a play which deals with the dangers of mass hysteria and blind conviction.
In Dominic Cooke’s stunning revival, the starkly minimalist set towers above the stage like a oppressive wall of Puritanism. As my theatre-going partner for the evening remarked: it made everyone seem very small. Filtered through ingenious false doors and openings, the harsh, brilliant lighting allows the set to take on unique characters as it creates diverse spaces; Parris’s austere bedroom is juxtaposed with Proctor’s fire-warmed kitchen.
Iain Glen utterly consumes the stage with his brooding, muscular Proctor. Dressed in a workman’s leather jacket and dripping with sweat from the outset, the contrast between this earthy humanity and the coldness of the court could not be more vivid. This is no simple farmer though; Glen’s Proctor is confused and distracted but cerebral and intensely principled. That acting of this quality tends to overshadow proceedings should not lead you to believe that the entire cast is anything less than stellar. Robert Bowman, in particular, brings to Reverend Hale a youthful vigour and genuine integrity that is so vital to underpinning his character’s internal moral strife. Schlesinger’s Elizabeth Proctor is cold and reserved, yet her blurred feelings towards her adulterous husband simmer just beneath the surface.
Supporting these parts, the ensemble is uniformly excellent, right down to the smallest details, such as the carefully sculpted East Anglian dialects. In a play where it is so easy to overplay the dramatic peaks, this production hits all the right notes: delicate, but forceful. As the play reaches its inevitable climax, you are drawn in, transfixed by Proctor’s terrible choice, and willing for it to be otherwise.
This is theatre at its most powerful.
PS: Yes, the buffoon at the front whose Sony Ericsson let rip in all its shrill disruptiveness was me. I was mortified — my apologies. To the vainglorious twit sitting next to me, I think your holier-than-thou tutting was louder than my phone.