“You are tearing down heaven and raising up a whore.”

So reads one of the more memorable lines of The Crucible, and this reflects the atmosphere created by the current interpretation of Arthur Miller’s most allegorical play at the Old Vic.

A tale of judge, jury and executioner, The Crucible has long been known as a partly-fictional account of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and as a reflection of the rampant McCarthyism of the early 1950s. Now, more than ever, I believe Arthur Miller’s words are allegorical again.

The unblinkered and almost repulsive belief in ‘justice’ shown by Jack Ellis as Judge Danforth would put the fear of God into animals. No stone is left unturned in Danforth’s unfaltering need for justice, and no life is spared. Justice and mercy make strange bedfellows, and this is a theme oft repeated by this interpretation.

…that brings to mind the modern anti-hero…

The Crucible 1There’s something about Richard Armitage’s John Proctor that brings to mind the modern anti-hero. Be it Heathcliff or Angel Clare, Richard Armitage would stand tall amongst the greats in his Stanislavskian telling of his downfall.

There’s dramatic irony (and pathos) in William Gaunt’s depiction of Giles, who, for the opening half of the play takes on the ‘fool’ role. It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to realise that Giles is no fool, but the crushing inevitability of his fate, as sealed by Judge Danforth, again casts light on the horror of persecution. Giles’ crime? He would not testify for or against his wife. His fate? Death by heavy slabs. His final words? “More weight”.

I thought back to other stories, where, arguably, “justice” has been served at the cost of mercy. A critic once remarked that Tess of the D’Urbervilles evoked “the energy of traditional ways and the strength of the forces that are destroying them”. Never was that so true but for The Crucible.

…it would have been interesting to see John Proctor end the play on the gallows…

But who could forget the epitome of literary judicial pathos, that of A Tale of Two Cities. If Yaël Farber had perhaps been less reliant on the original script (it was almost verbatim), it would have been interesting to see John Proctor end the play on the gallows with the following:

‘It is a far far better thing I do, than I have ever done. It is a far far better rest I go to than I have ever known’.

I’ll leave you to decide how this enduring play remains a parable for our time.”

The Crucible at the Old Vic is running until Sept 13

Tickets: £10, £16, £21, £30, £45, £55


Review: The Crucible at The Old Vic
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