Bristol Old Vic kicks off their autumn season with The Crucible,  sixty one years after they gave Arthur Miller’s classic play its British première.

Set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, Miller’s play is a comment on the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of America in the 1950s. Tension and paranoia permeate every scene with the accused at the mercy of their supposed ‘victims.’ The set design incorporated the audience into the scenes with on stage seating inspired by early lecture halls and reminiscent of a legal court, cleverly adding to the feeling of claustrophobia, paranoia and the collusion of the audience in the horrors that follow.

At the centre of the tale is John Proctor, a man of morals who made a grave error in judgement when he slept with his scheming housemaid, Abigail Williams. Turned out by his wife Elizabeth Proctor when John confessed, Abigail now seeks her revenge on the pair. Caught dancing in the woods with Caribbean maid Tituba, the girls of the town follow Abigail’s lead in accusing the townsfolk of witchcraft with terrible consequences.

Abigail is played by Rona Morison, who is suitably terrifying with her guise of innocence hiding her diabolical intentions. Jeffery Kissoon is Deputy-Governor Danforth, stubborn and resolute in his belief that Salem is filled with witchcraft and only multiple executions will ensure the defeat of the devil. Jude Akuwudike is an equally odious Reverend Parris, both righteous and self serving, protected from accusations by his priesthood. Neve McIntosh as the morally upright Elizabeth Proctor and Dean Lennox Kelly as John Proctor give honest and emotional performances as the moral compasses of the play. All the characters are wonderfully complicated, particularly Mary Warren, played by Annes Elwy, who turns apostate to the other girls.

Tense and exciting throughout with a gripping finale, this is a show not to be missed.

 

Review by Anna McGrail