My first visit to the Royal Exchange will certainly stay with me for a while to come. Not quite knowing what to expect from the theatre itself, I was utterly captivated by the modern cathedral-like space that greeted us. The buzzing atmosphere was almost tangible, and as we stepped into the in-the-round theatre, it felt as though we were entering a timeless bubble.
This chilling tale is told by an accomplished cast, who use the space to include the whole audience. The varying degrees of intensity and emotions were all attacked with an energy that seemed to fill the space, despite the stage remaining bare throughout.
The play, at first glance, seems to be solely based on the 1690s Salem witch hunt, yet Miller's creation has an added dimension. The Crucible displays parallels to Miller's 1950s political turmoil, where Senator McCarthy named him as a communist sympathiser for the Committee on un-American Activities. Steinbeis has managed to create a piece of theatre that alludes to this, despite the links being very subtle. All the girls were in uniform 17th century dress, as one would expect, with the men's costumes ranging from then to modern day, even the Reverend came onstage with a windproof jacket and sports backpack. Initially I found this, and the use hand sanitiser, somewhat inconsistent. However, perhaps Steinbeis' aim was to portray how the women were segregated and treated like second-class citizens, whilst the men wore varying degrees of modern dress, therefore being an indication that paranoia and corruption, both politically and legally, have the potential to repeatedly happen throughout time.
The second act lacked some momentum, but the climatic ending brought closure to the piece as a whole. This production of The Crucible was an intense and gripping experience, and certainly conveyed to the audience how naivety can disease a whole society.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Crucible Arthur Miller
Directed by Caroline Steinbeis