Thomas W. Hodgkinson

The Crucible

By Arthur Miller
Yard, London

It starts quietly, barely a play at all. Clad in what they happen to be wearing, the seated cast recite the lines and stage directions from Arthur Miller’s classic drama about the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. Then one of them crosses the floor to speak to another. Natural accents give way to earthy brogues. Period costume appears. And we’ve been drawn in, wholesale, to one of the great plays of the 20th century. This fiddling with the Brechtian dial (adjusting our awareness that what we’re seeing isn’t real) is more interesting than the colour-blind, gender-blind casting, though it does give the dial another tweak. The effort it takes to overlook the fact that John Proctor — the sturdy farmer whose virtuous wife is accused of witchcraft by his lust-crazed ex — is played by a woman brings rewards you wouldn’t get with a man. Caoilfhionn Dunne is excellent in the part, as is Nina Cassells as the woman scorned. Emma D’Arcy negotiates the role of the worthy wife with agility. The cast are strong to a (wo)man, all serving the vital and ultimately devastating directorial vision of Jay Miller. This is a show to make a journey for.