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Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at the Yard Theatre | Review

The Crucible - Photo by Helen Murray
The Crucible – Photo by Helen Murray

In a bold new presentation, Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible gains a new lease of life at The Yard in Hackney Wick, running through to the 11th of May.

The Crucible is, of course, the quasi-factual telling of the Salem witch trials and in the same way as any drama can be advertised as being ‘based on real events’, there are some truths within it that are given a dramatic flair. Some names, ages and places may be altered slightly but the intention is considered to be to provide something believable and entertaining that a viewer can take away and research further.

Arthur Miller himself made such statements about The Crucible and in this era of never quite being able to believe what you see, the introduction’s surprise came not from this but from the fact that rather than a straight production we were initially offered a set covered in chairs with characters names on them. Into these cast members sat and spoke the lines of their character, moving between seats as they were required to take on different parts and for a short concerning time, I thought the 3-hour play was going to be entirely like this. No costumes and an almost classroom-reading feel.

Spoiler alert; it wasn’t. *Phew*

Before long, we were in full period drama flow with wimples and tunics aplenty and a fair smorgasbord of period language. The chairs never resurfaced in quite the same way again (although they were used as props in other ways) and I still can’t decide whether that introduction worked for me or not. On one hand, I was more grateful to receive the traditional style sections of the piece following it, but it did raise questions as to why the play was begun in that form. The jury, unlike in Salem in 1692, is out.

Of course, when a production begins in an odd fashion, that’s rarely the end of such oddities and while it took a little while for it to come back to the fore, there were certainly plenty of unexpected elements to this play to keep us on our toes. Some I thought were excellent (top quality gavel work, Mr Beswick) and some I didn’t think worked as well (what were those masked figures representing?).

For fear of giving the game too far away, I’ll not go into much specific detail, but I will say that when the execution worked; my word did it work well. Some of the production elements I thought were top quality, as was the decision to add a little well-needed levity (largely provided by Sophie Duval) to keep all our whistles wet during an otherwise dry piece.

While I was very much distracted by Jack Holden’s – what I assume to be affected – accent (because I later realised it’s the same as Bill Moseley’s in the film Devil’s Rejects for any fans out there), and there was, to me, an outstanding performance by Caoilfhionn Dunne as John Proctor this was a strong cast that owned both the characterisation and the period speech and manners of the play as far as possible with the minor complaint that in a few scenes where it wasn’t clear if a character was talking to themselves, an off-screen character or the performer was playing two parts at once. Something in the production not quite working there, perhaps.

A few minor confusions aside, I was so engrossed in The Crucible that the time flew by and while my other half and I disagreed on a few points around the production, we both heartily agreed it was a good enjoyable night. Heartily recommended.

4 stars

Review by Damien Russell

You’re a witch.
No I’m not.
You’re a witch.
No I’m not.
You’re a witch.
Stop saying that.
You’re a witch.
You’re scaring me.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.
Am I?
Am I a witch?
You’re a witch.
So are you.

A story from the past brought crashing into the present. A world in which lies and truth are indistinguishable. Where hatreds and desires are born, confessed, revenged.
Presented by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited.

Jacob James Beswick
Nina Cassell
Emma D’Arcy
Caoilfhionn Dunne as John Proctor
Sophie Duval
Sorcha Groundsell
Jack Holden
Syrus Lowe
Lucy Vandi

Director Jay Miller
Set Designer Cecile Tremolieres
Sound Designer Josh Anio Grigg
Composer Jonah Brody
Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg
Casting Director Sophie Parrott CDG
Costume Designer Oliver Cronk
Assistant Director Charlotte Fraser

The Crucible
The Yard Theatre Unit 2a Queens Yard, London E9 5EN
27 March – 11 May | 7:30pm Monday – Friday, 1pm & 7pm Saturdays
Press Night Tuesday 2 April, 7pm
Age guidance 14+


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