Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – until 19 March 2016
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Exceptional clarity characterises the Lyceum’s production of The Crucible, whose focus on small details reaps rewards but does so at the expense of dramatic impact.
Miller’s dramatisation of the 17th century Salem witch trials among the Puritan settlers in Massachusetts has of course become a much admired and much studied text.
You do not need to look far for modern parallels in this story of how society deals with challenges to its beliefs or values, even leaving aside the well-known echoes of the postwar ‘red scare’ in the US.
Director John Dove takes an accordingly thoughtful line, toning down the hysteria and instead proceeding largely through a series of stately tableaux, enacted on Michael Taylor’s suitably puritanical set, accompanied by Philip Pinsky’s doom-laden music and Tim Mitchell’s harshly revealing lighting.
There is the occasional hint at religious hair-splitting that is familiar to Scottish audiences, but Dove mainly treads a careful path, avoiding excess and focusing on the human impact.
This works to a certain extent, but it does throw an unavoidably large burden on to the huge cast, who are not all equally impressive. This means that at times it does begin to drag, particularly in the first half.
There is a definite speeding-up after the interval, when Ron Donachie’s Deputy Governor Danforth appears and immediately takes centre stage. He has a huge presence in many ways, and his frighteningly realistic prosecutor – unable to comprehend any challenge to his worldview and unthinkingly twisting the facts to suit it – seems an extremely modern performance.
Mark McDonnell (Judge Hathorne), Ron Donachie (Danforth), Kirsty Mackay (Mary Warren) and Richard Conlon (Reverend Hale). Photo: Drew Farrell
This is in contrast to some of the ensemble, whose demeanour and occasional grating mix of accents can be rather forced and stagey. The decision to eliminate all possible melodrama is a good one, but as a result Meghan Tyler’s Abigail Williams – the teenager whose accusations spark off the trials – is a less central, less magnetic figure than she could be.
John Proctor, the farmer and Abigail’s former lover who is in many ways the central figure, is similarly low-key and thoughtful in Philip Cairns’ hands. This diminishes his gravitas but enhances the human drama. In particular, his struggle over his reputation is extremely well done, helped no end by the excellent Irene Allan as his wife Elizabeth.
The most impressive of the other performances tend to come either from the most serene characterisations – such as Joanne Tope’s ‘saintly’ Rebecca Nurse – or alternatively the ones whose emotions seem closest to the surface, such as Richard Conlon’s Reverend Hale, the learned preacher called in to deal with the supernatural whose later suspicions that he has been duped destroy him utterly. This provides a useful contrast to Greg Powrie’s oleaginous Reverend Parris, self-obsessed to the last.
Although admirably clear-sighted and human, there is a distinct and disappointing lack of the spark that has characterised recent Lyceum productions, meaning this is easy to admire but difficult to love.
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes (including one interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Thursday 18 February – Saturday 19 March 2016
Evenings: Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30 pm; Matinees: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.00 pm (Schools Matinee Wed 24 Feb 1 pm)
Tickets from http://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/the-crucible
The ensemble – Photo: Drew Farrell