Review: The Crucible, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)





Review by Mark Brown

An uneven Crucible. Photo: Drew Farrell

With Trumbo, Jay Roach’s movie about McCarthyism, currently showing in cinemas, there could hardly be a better time to revisit Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. Although set during the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 17th-century, Miller’s great allegorical drama was famously written in response to the anti-communist campaign of senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

If the play’s pedigree is auspicious, so too is the Lyceum’s choice of director. As an associate artist of the Edinburgh theatre, John Dove has a string of successful Miller productions behind him, including A View from the Bridge and Death of a Salesman.

Dove is a sculptor among theatre directors. His productions usually bring together a faithful regard for the text with a robust-yet-nuanced approach to staging.

Handsome and honest though it is, however, this Crucible is less sure-footed than the director’s previous Miller productions.

The main cause of this uncertainty is the unevenness in the casting. Kirsty Mackay excels as Mary Warren, the girl terrified into bearing false witness, while Irene Allan impresses as Elizabeth Proctor, the farmer’s wife who is the subject of vengeful allegations.

Elsewhere, however, there are more than a few chinks in the production’s armour. Douglas Russell, for example, puts in a heavy-handed performance as the morally dubious, wealthy farmer Thomas Putnam.

More significant is Philip Cairns playing of the drama’s flawed hero, John Proctor. Although earnest and emotionally engaged, Cairns’s performance lacks the gravitas and moral stature required of a man whose sense of justice ultimately overcomes his fear of death.

If the acting is variable, so, too, are the accents. One need not be the kind of pedant who demands a close approximation of the Massachusetts dialect in the 1690s to be disappointed by the voice work here.

Robert Jack’s court clerk Ezekiel Cheever, for instance, seems to hail from modern day Brooklyn. David Beames’s strong-willed Giles Corey is more exotic still, sounding as if he comes from the Deep South at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Michael Taylor’s set is an uncomfortable and inflexible combination of colonial domesticity with the forest (where nature and witchery combine in the minds of fearful Christians). Philip Pinsky’s intrusive, emotionally instructive music only adds to the sense of a production that has somewhat escaped its director’s grasp.

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This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 22, 2016

© Mark Brown




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