Director Helgi Clayton’s production of Arthur Miller’s much-celebrated play depicts a harrowing ‘crucible’ of lust, jealousy, superstition, and moral corruption. The audience finds themselves immediately plunged into a world of screaming teenage girls, scandalous dancing and séance to allure the men they fancy.
The use of the lighting and music was particularly effective, as vision and truth are such prominent motifs throughout the play: the entire theatre was pitch black. All could be heard were the screaming of young girls and Tituba’s exotic incantations.
This is thoughtfully juxtaposed with the hypocritical society of Salem. One of the strongest aspects of the performance was the group of female characters. Abigail Williams, played by Mary Higgins, proves to be quite the three-dimensional character, who thrives in such a superstitious and corrupt patriarchal society. Throughout the play, she displayed an excellent manipulative demeanour.
This was bolstered by the choice of costume, which instantly sets her apart from the rest of the wives and daughters of Salem. Her acting makes it convincing that she is a character hungry for power, not only as a way of achieving female emancipation, but also at the same time for her own hidden agenda as well as to cover up her unorthodox misconduct.
Often, the group of girls would shriek and yell in unison, squirm on the floor, and repeat what other characters utter, engendering a paranormal atmosphere. As the play reaches its climax, Williams reminds the audience that she is ultimately a young girl caught up in her own whirlpool of deceptions too deep to untangle out of.
The lack of fluency in discourse at times and forgetting of the script was made up for by the high standard of acting. In particular, the deputy governor Danforth – played by James Galvin – gives a strong performance as the patriarchal dominant figure, whose authority is jeopardised by accusations that the village girls had been pulling the wool over his eyes throughout the witch-hunt. He engages the audience with a brilliant sense of despotism. He manages to make his character abominable and pathetic at the same time, which is an art in itself.
The minimalist set design works well with the setting of Miller’s play. Rather than being distracted by detailed props, the focalisation rests on the heat of the tension in a crumbling societal framework. Clayton succeeds in recreating the theatrical rationale behind Miller’s masterpiece; the Hildabeasts’ adaptation engages its audience through a steady cascade of subjugated moral expectation.
Even the most canonical works can see a shift in reception in the cruelness of time. But what mesmerizes me is how relevant The Crucible still is to our society in these troubled times. Miller’s play still reaches us on an emotional and didactic level: be it a question of Communism, Freedom of Speech, or indeed Feminism, there seems to be room for Miller’s criticism that we can learn from.
The Crucible is playing in St Hilda’s until 29th November