‘The Crucible’ Review - An eerie, haunting take on the Arthur Miller classic
Read our five-star review of The Crucible starring Milly Alcock in the West End. The National Theatre production is playing through 2 September.
Welcome to the witch hunt. The year is around 1692, and the accusers (and in some cases, accusees) are a group of young women flirting with freedom and fire as they explore the boundaries of their adolescence and newfound power.
However, in the National Theatre’s spellbinding revival, expertly directed by Lyndsey Turner, of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, that power is constantly shifting. What seems like a cut-and-dry case of teenaged emotions and false accusations emerges as a battle for the morality of society and the innocence of children.
While the 18-year-old Abigail Williams instigates the mayhem when she starts throwing out allegations of witchcraft, Milly Alcock brings a sense of mystery to her portrayal of the calculating and tormented character. The House of Dragon star makes a beautiful West End stage debut, and although much of Abigail’s antics can be construed as shouting and hysteria, Alcock does more with a look and a gesture than a seemingly possessed scream. The screams are there as well, in haunting choruses of the girls theatricalizing their demons, but Alcock’s stage power lies in her cinematic presence.
The entire production has an eerie, engulfing quality thanks to Es Devlin’s picture-perfect diorama of a set. She’s divided the playing space into three, with a pouring rain curtain at the front, a sloped mainstage, and a dreamlike area upstage, shrouded and then revealed by designer Tim Lutkin’s expert lighting.
The 28-strong cast is uniformly excellent, with Brian Gleeson leading the ensemble as a sympathetic and conflicted John Proctor. Proctor’s wife Elizabeth (a subdued Caitlin FitzGerald) is the subject of Abigail’s initial threats, which spiral over the course of the play, and Gleeson plays Proctor with empathetic humanity and impressive stoicism, entirely likable and sympathetic throughout, blurring the moral lines even further.
Other standouts include the impressive Nia Towle as the Proctor’s servant Mary Warren, Tilly Tremayne as Rebecca Nurse, Nick Fletcher as Reverend Samuel Parris, and Fisayo Akinade as Reverend John Hale. The ensemble dynamic doesn’t work without every individual’s excellent contribution, and this company delivers on every point.
When Miller wrote the play in 1953, he used the Salem Witch Trials as a device to mirror the United States’ McCarthyism. The societal persecution can mirror whatever current power struggle exists, making The Crucible an endlessly relatable and relevant work. The ever-changing power dynamics reflect politics from the dinner table to Parliament, and the questions of veracity shift seamlessly with the times. Turner’s production reminds us of the dangers of throwing stones and how the thin line between true and false sometimes hinges on someone’s agenda and not on facts.
*The Crucible is playing at the Gielgud Theatre through 2 September. Book The Crucible tickets on London Theatre. *
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