The Crucible, Open Air Theatre, London
Friday 04 June 2010
They might have kicked off the summer season in the park with something jollier: Seven Against Thebes, perhaps, or Long Day's Journey into Night. The way things are going in Regent's Park, it's only a matter of time.
And, judging by Timothy Sheader's enthralling revival of Arthur Miller's great witch-hunt play, who is to say it's not "time up" for those Shakespearean fairies and unfunny clowns? Let's hope not, but the development of a rigorous new epic style among the tall, swaying trees and clouds of white blossom drifting through the night air, is welcome indeed.
As it happens, this is a very long journey into night, running at well over three hours, but apart from a few hiccups with the microphoning system (Oliver Ford Davies as deputy-governor Danforth suddenly looked silly when he switched to mute), this is a near flawless staging of a play whose time is always now.
Overtly a historical study of the Salem witch-hunts of 1692, and famous for chiming with Senator Joe McCarthy's "red menace" show trials in the early 1950s, Miller's brilliantly orchestrated drama is in fact a timeless allegory of a community in the grip of mass hysteria and moral righteousness.
Girls have been seen running through the woods. Next thing we hear, they were naked. Then one of them has caught a lusty glance from an honest farmer whose wife has been sick. The spell's wound up, as they say in Macbeth, and the village is ablaze with accusations and counter-charges, spooky explanations of a woman losing several babies, and a child's doll stuck with a needle becomes a court exhibit for the prosecution.
The sheer terror of all this is something we all know when helpless in the face of authority. In the case of John Proctor, the farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, the atmosphere feeds on their marriage and tears them apart. Patrick O'Kane plays Proctor with a tremendous physical frenzy and fervour, while Emma Cunniffe gives a heartbreaking portrait of wifely stoicism.
The play goes well in the open air, handsomely arranged on Jon Bausor's raised platform stage, around which the bonneted girls crouch and conspire on their tree stumps, a moving gallery of the innocent and the provocative; for the not least great thing about Miller's play is the room it leaves for doubt, compassion and ambiguity.
To 19 June (0844 826 4242)
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