Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Until March 19
Reviewed by Mark Brown
In 1995 theatre director Andy Arnold staged a memorable production of Arthur Miller’s famous witch trials drama The Crucible at The Arches in Glasgow. Performed in-the-round and played in West Highland Scottish accents, it placed the play’s late-17th century North American Puritanism in the enduring context of Scottish Calvinism.
Arnold’s brilliant staging proved that directors in the UK need not hold to the very British habit of keeping theatrical texts in their designated time and place. This thought occurred to me more than once while watching John Dove’s new production of Miller’s magnum opus for the Royal Lyceum.
Dove, who is a longstanding associate artist at the Lyceum, has created many superb shows at the Edinburgh playhouse, not least a string of Miller productions, including All My Sons and A View From The Bridge. Sadly, however, this Crucible doesn’t quite measure up to his usual high standards.
The director’s characteristic faithfulness to the author, which is normally a strength, is a weakness here. Only a pedant would demand that the production attempt to reproduce the dialect of Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s, but audiences are entitled to consistency.
Voice coach Lynn Bains seems to have been fighting a losing battle. Some of the cast contrive to sound as if they hail from various corners of what is now the United States. Never did the Arnold route, of relocating the play to a pious Highland community, look so attractive.
Dove has the rare ability to create stage works that are, simultaneously, robust-yet-subtle, as if they have been chiselled from granite by a master craftsman. That is often the case here, not least in Ron Donachie’s towering performance as Deputy Governor Danforth, a man whose human doubt is ultimately trumped by his terrible faith in Old Testament justice.
Kirsty Mackay impresses as Mary Warren, the moral equivocator among the young girls whose accusations of witchcraft are fuelling the terror. Richard Conlon is similarly strong as Reverend Hale, the minister who becomes increasingly outraged by the frenzied blood-letting.
Elsewhere, however, the acting is simply too variable to sustain the weight of the play. Philip Cairns, in particular, lacks the moral stature required by Miller’s tragic hero John Proctor.
Michael Taylor’s awkward set (part detailed domesticity, part foreboding forest) and Philip Pinsky’s music (Spielbergian in its intrusiveness) seem symptomatic of a production that is simply too inconsistent to deliver on its promise.
A slightly truncated version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 28, 2016
© Mark Brown