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Theatre Review: The Crucible ****

Michael Cox reviews a production of a classic play 'told with passion and intelligence'.

When staging classic plays, it's easy for directors to fall into traps and either feel the need to spruce up productions with clever concepts and gimmicks or to make reverent museum pieces. John Dove’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is neither. It is instead a straight staging of the play told with passion and intelligence.

Perhaps what is most frightening about the play is how relevant it is. Miller may have been inspired by the Red Scare in the US in the 1950s, but the story—which follows a group of people through the infamous Salem Witch Trials—still strikes noticeable parallels with today’s political climate, and the persecution of John and Elizabeth Proctor can be seen as a refracted image of how media and the Internet can shamelessly hound people.

The design is striking in its simplicity: three trees stand in the back like witnesses to what's about to come. Tables, chairs and a bed are used to highlight place, but for a play that is frequently performed with a sense of claustrophobia, this is a rather bright and good-looking production filled with striking images. Music swells during key moments and the costumes, though correctly conservative for a Puritan society, still show status through colour and tailoring.

However the real standout in Dove’s production is his ensemble. Actors usually seen in lead roles are cast in supporting roles, resulting in a performance that doesn't have one weak link. Also found in many of the performances is a quiet dignity instead of grandstanding, making this a production that simmers rather than boiling over—and it works to excellent effect.

The Crucible performs at the Royal Lyceum until March 19.

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