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Theatre review: More subtlety needed in Yael Farber’s version of The Crucible

PUBLISHED: 13:19 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:19 21 July 2014

THE CRUCIBLE by Miller,          , Writer – Arthur Miller, Director – Yael Farber, Designer – Soutra Gilmour, The Old Vic Theatre, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson/

THE CRUCIBLE by Miller, , Writer – Arthur Miller, Director – Yael Farber, Designer – Soutra Gilmour, The Old Vic Theatre, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson/

JOHAN PERSSON

Arthur Miller’s intensely moral plays with their undertow of Greek tragedy make for powerful but not always subtle theatre.

Arthur Miller’s intensely moral plays with their undertow of Greek tragedy make for powerful but not always subtle theatre.

Yael Farber’s three and a half hour in-the-round, immersion into Salem’s witchcraft trials has little interest in brevity or delicacy, turning the mass hysteria up to eleven.

Slowly-building its oppressive mood of dread and paranoia, no line is spoken where it may be shouted, nor opportunity lost for characters to spring about and grapple each other.

Yet for all its raw passion and portentous atmospherics, you can’t help wonder might judicious pruning and greater repression in these buttoned-up Puritans have more potency? Could less have been more?

Spooks star Richard Armitage takes the showpiece role of John Proctor, a classic Miller individual, pitted against the forces of authority.

Guilt

Proctor’s struggling to right his dickering moral compass - guilt-ridden after committing adultery with servant Abigail, his spurned lover has now turned accuser with other village girls, writhing in fits and citing visions of the devil in the company of friends and neighbours.

Famously an allegory of McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt in 50s America, The Crucible could as easily be read today as a warning against religious fundamentalism or a study of how communities can turn on the outsider within.

Farber’s staging is simple, wooden tables and chairs, but she weaves her spell with dim lighting an ominous soundscape and brooding dumbshows.

Armitage is a commanding physical presence with smouldering intensity yet his performance lacks nuance, as does newcomer Samantha Colley’s, who rather overdoes Abigail’s sinister belligerence and power hunger.

The most moving moments emanate from Anna Madeley’s extraordinarily powerful stillness as Proctor’s quietly wounded wife. An example of less indeed being more.

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