the crucible review

The Crucible review | More replay than reinvention

Milly Alcock and Brian Gleeson star in a conventional revival of Arthur Miller's classic. Here's our The Crucible review.


If ever there were a time to stage a big National Theatre revival of The Crucible, you’d think it would be now. The dual historical narrative and McCathyist allegory speak acutely to the similarly paranoid, doom-inclined age we find ourselves in. As politico-economic turmoil swirls in the back of our heads, the tale of a town torn apart by desperate self-interest should send a powerful message.

Unfortunately, despite the fancy rain curtain falling in front of the stage during transitions, the latest transfer to the Gielgud Theatre proves reluctant to reinvent itself. By hewing so close to the source text, The Crucible feels more like a smartly made period piece than a timely revival.

the crucible review

Es Devlin’s set design provides an impressive spectacle to proceedings (photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

The problems start with a cast which generally runs just a little too hot. The Crucible is far from a laugh-riot, but Miller’s writing is decidedly wittier than Lyndsey Turner’s direction allows it to be. The earnestness of the delivery, especially in the first half, occasionally has the opposite effect of the intended one. Far from finding ourselves immersed in the 17th-century world of supernatural paranoia, it only serves to highlight the distance between attitudes then and now.

There are some highlights amongst the ensemble, though. Brian Gleeson’s John Proctor forms a charismatic moral centre to the story, broken down and reforged by the accusations flying around the village. Matthew Marsh also proves deeply sinister as Deputy Governor Danforth, capturing the intolerant McCarthy allegory with chilling potency. But some very static blocking and a mix of accents which run the full gamut from Irish immigrant to modern-day Bostonian prove distracting enough that it’s not until Danforth’s appearance in the third act that the play really seems to get going.

Miller’s script, though is still powerful enough that The Crucible is a difficult story to make inert entirely. As a clean, conventional adaptation of one of the 20th century’s most enduring plays, Turner’s staging does an admirable job. In 2023, however, it’s hard to escape the feeling it should have been so much more.

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