ARTHUR Miller wrote his epic play The Crucible in response to the McCarthy witch hunts of the early 1950s, underlining the mass hysteria and paranoia that can overtake the American people.
The play is particularly relevant today, in a US society increasingly polarised by suspicion, innuendo and “fake news”. Lois Harbinson’s production the play for Wells Little Theatre emphasises its timelessness by setting the story in the present day, and ignoring the 17th century American accent in which it is written.
The Crucible is always a powerful theatrical experience, and this production opens with a soundscape that adds immediately to the tension, as birds fly and whispers surround the audience.
A selfish and jealous girl, rejected by the man with whom she is obsessed, manipulates her adolescent friends into a flurry of lying hysteria, and a community is brought to its knees. The best intentions are subverted and patriarchal power marches on.
The story is particularly chilling in the light of the brilliant dramatisation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and daily revelations of invented stories swaying national opinion. The Miller play was performed across the US in 2016 during the election campaign, pointing out that witch hunts are still a feature of life in the country. “Ask Mexicans or Muslims,” said one actor in the Broadway production.
Lois Harbinson has stripped away some of the “antique” artifice and in so doing has exposed various undeveloped themes. The commercial and litigious motivations of the Putnams and the Coreys, and the grasping venal hypocrisy of the Rev Parris unfolded as the hysteria rose.
Julia Gear-Evans and Kevin Hardacre were the convincing Proctors, and Adam Lanfranchi never better than as Rev John Hale.
Reb Trayhurn had the right authoritarian power as Danforth. Catriona Eagle captured the essence of Rebecca Nurse.
By shifting the focus from the scheming Abigail (Danielle Clark) to the conflicted Mary Warren (the excellent Lydia Stobie-Owen) the balance was interestingly changed.
This powerful production, with its atmospheric use of Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa and its excellent use of sound directed by Adrian Mitchell, reminds us how little we learn and how little we change.
It’s on until Saturday at Wells.
Footnote: This from Friday’s Boston Globe
BREAKING NEWS ALERT
Fifty immigrants across the state were among nearly 500 nationwide arrested for federal immigration violations in an operation that targeted so-called sanctuary cities.
In a statement from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Massachusetts was the only state singled out.