The Crucible at the National Theatre | Theatre Review
This November, I saw The Crucible at the National Theatre in London. It was my first time ever going to the National Theatre, and I was really excited.
The Crucible is one of my all-time favourite plays, by Arthur Miller. It’s a parable, comparing the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s to McCarthyism in the 1960s.
The Production & Staging of The Crucible
This adaptation, directed by Lyndsey Turner, is a straightforward adaptation of the play but stunning staging by Es Devlin.
There is no modernisation, though there are elements of the costumes that draw on the modern-day to make it easier to understand the characters. So the young girls who accuse everyone of witchcraft are in quite childish smocks of pinks and whites, excluding Abigail Williams – played by Erin Doherty – who is in green and yellow. Whilst the farmers and the farmer’s wives are in softer blues and denim. The parish church members and judges who listen to the girls are all in harsh black, unyielding on stage and in life.
The staging is cleverly done and simple, using mostly chairs and tables to fill the space. The whole stage is surrounded by a waterfall effect that is on from the moment that the audience enters the auditorium and signals the end and beginnings of new scenes. It’s a breathtaking effect that audibly made the audience gasp when turned on and off the first few times.
The characters and characterisation are where I think the show lacked the most impact. Being such a beloved and quite simple play, I found the choices of some actors to play characters in certain ways difficult to connect with the story.
There were a lot of laughs in this production, which is unusual for such a dark play.
Whilst Giles Corey, expertly portrayed by Karl Johnson, is the comic relief with a tragic end, I was surprised to find the audience laughing at the madness of Goody Putnam as she accuses women of killing her babies left right and centre. That is not a funny character, but an incredibly volatile and dangerous one.
Erin Doherty who so wonderfully played Princess Anne in The Crown and Becky in Chloe made an odd choice to make Abigail Williams exceedingly nervous and mentally fragile. At no point did I feel that this was a woman obsessed with John Proctor and power. At all times it felt like she was trying desperately to dig herself out of a hole, but digging the wrong way.
It fell flat and felt melodramatic at times with no ups or downs, but with a constant frenetic urgency.
Brendan Cowell as John Proctor has a lot of anger and you feel his judgement over all the cast, not as a pious man but as a man who finds everyone and everything ridiculous, is quite a harsh performance. His wife, played by Eileen Walsh with a wonderful balance of nerves mixed with suppressed anger, feels unsupported on stage which works and doesn’t work at the same time.
His last speech at the crescendo of the show had everyone riveted and the shame, anger and fear that was missing or diluted in previous scenes shines through.
The highlights for me were Fisayo Akinade as Reverend Hale, a surprising piece of casting since Akinade is usually cast in comedic roles like the art teacher in Heartstopper. But he held his own on stage and I felt he had the strongest arc from dark devil finder to apologetic and ashamed reverend.
For me, I felt the staging was excellent and there were moments where I was wholly sucked into the drama, but they were few and far between. Too many times I found myself wondering about my shopping list and counting the coughs that echoed around the massive auditorium.
The accents were questionable – and I did enjoy eavesdropping on the American audience members behind me trying to dissect the Bostonian accents from the Irish, Australian and South American ones we were all hearing.
The single note that echoed around the room throughout the production was only distracting – I thought someone’s phone was going off constantly – and the tension that was attempted by having tableaus and odd frozen scenes at the back of the stage was not achieved.
A faster pace, a more threatening tone and a clearer decision on accents would have kept me in the drama more. But sadly, on this occasion, this production of The Crucible for me fell flat.
But if you were looking for a true adaptation without any modernisation or bastardization of Miller’s original text, it was worth seeing. The show closed on the 5th November 2022.