In the run-up to its 250th anniversary, Bristol Old Vic decided to stage a new production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Crucible’ in the hands of Director Tom Morris. To see a new production of a classical work is not only an exciting endeavour, but also a reminder of its modern echoes, for what is a ‘classic’ if not an all-time ringing bell?
Miller’s intention was to write a play about the Communist hunts of his day – the McCarthian red hunt – and ended up by using the Salem witch hunts and trials of 1692 as a powerful metaphor of the 1953 events. Ingeniously, Miller portrayed not only the parallel between these two; he showed the common thread in all communities where fanatic and fundamental ideals take hold. A different type of solidarity confirms itself in such circumstances: one of Fear, with a bold capital F. Paralysing fear can make one believe in anything of their own choosing, be that witches or communist antichrists. The list can go on, of course, and can include all human-provoked genocides, martyrdoms and extremist extrications. History tends to repeat itself, and gems like Miller’s ‘Crucible’ serve to remind of this fact, to urge one to open their eyes, examine and re-examine the foundations of their actions.
Events of the Salem witch hunt, however, resulted in a devastating number of losses – 150 charged and imprisoned, fourteen women and five men hung, an elderly man pressed to death with rocks, and seven died in prison; overwhelming stats compared to trials based on witchcraft in England and elsewhere in America. So why Salem?
This question lies at the core of the story/play, an exploration of the extraordinary circumstance of Salem Town that brought about such historical tragedy. What with the special sense of community (Salem’s population numbered 500 in total, divided between Salem Town and the rest of Salem), the harsh defence of Puritan mindedness, the pivotal role of child ‘victims’ exploring their rich imagination, drunk on the power of being listened to, and not forgetting the acceptance of ‘spectral evidence’ – all this resulted in the Salem hangings.
Rona Morison shone in the crucial character of Abigail Williams, a difficult role considering the child-woman balance and the enchantress of the court with ‘spectral visions’.
The special on-stage seating was a novelty in this new production, which managed to accommodate all actors in the mise-en-scène and have the observing audience in the role of a jury, dissecting the play close-up.
Not all is grim in ‘Crucible’. Besides the fear that separates the people into seeing only good and evil, saints and demons, one can detect the glorious feeling of personal righteousness of the condemned, refusing to confess lies, all those who died with their heads up.
For three hours, the Bristol audience had the pleasure of witnessing an old story made new, vivisecting the historical aspects of the rhymes echoing the beginning and the end – ‘There we never shall die/‘Tis a land where we’ll never grow old’ – finding the modern equivalents of the hypocrisies of our times.
‘Crucible’ is at Bristol Old Vic until November 7. For tickets and info: http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/thecrucible.html.