The Crucible at Yeovil Swan Theatre

ARTHUR Miller wrote his powerful drama The Crucible in response to the  mass hysteria that accompanied the McCarthy “witch hunts” in the America of the 1950s, when propaganda was used to inflame feeling against so-called Communists running  television, radio and Hollywood.

Watching the play in March 2016, you have to wonder what the playwright would have made of the US political scene today.

He set The Crucible in Salem, Massa­chusetts, in 1692, when a community was torn apart by accusations of devil worship and witchery. In the play, a vengeful and manipulative teenager turns her wrath on the wife of the man she wants, and in her swathe of hatred takes in not only impressionable friends but the clergy and judiciary of the state. The result is mass execution.

Mark Payne’s production, at the Swan in Yeovil until 19th March, sets the action against a starkly repressive background. Ben Woof’s John Proctor, the farmer who has succumbed to his desires and cannot live with the shame, is a powerful central force. He is the man who must convince the judges that the main accuser, Abigail Williams, is a sham, acting out of bitter jealousy. And to convince them he must risk his life.

Paul Reakes, returning to the Swan, brings out the comedy in the curmudgeonly and litigious Giles Corey, making his end all the more chilling.

Another returner, Cat Chapman, brings the beautiful voice of Tituba back at the end of the play.

Elle Gilpin plays Elizabeth Proctor, the woman whose coldness drove her husband into the arms of the scheming Abigail, and whose one lie in life sends him to the gallows.

Alan Morris captured the chilling and arrogant power of Judge Danforth, and young actor Kit Stickland was ideally wracked with uncertainty as Rev Hale.

Dave King gave Rev Parris a more belligerent and unbending reading than in some productions, and it worked well. At the centre of the trouble was Amy Kemp as Abigail, and her scene with the other girls in the courtroom was truly horrifying.

This is a big play with big messages, in Yeovil clearly demonstrating the dangers of propaganda. So whether we are considering the UK referendum or the US elections, we should   heed the warnings.


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