The Crucible: The Insanity of Crowd Mentality

Centered around the search for Witch’s in Salem, Miller’s play is an allegory for the Red Scare that gripped America

When testifying in front of the House of Un-American Activities in 1956, Miller said: ‘Anybody in this room might have thoughts of various kinds that could be prosecuted if they were carried into action, but that is an entirely different story.’

The Crucible (1953) is Arthur Miller’s version of the Salem witch trials in 1692, which ended with 19 women being executed for witch craft. The ICAT (Independent Centre for Actor Training) Manchester group performed the play in The Lowry at only £6 a ticket.

ICAT the crucible
The program

Miller’s vision is an allegory for the Red Scare that gripped America in the 1950’s. Fueled by senator Joseph McCarthy, who was so ardent an anti-communist that the growing feeling of dislike towards the Soviets was labelled ‘McCarthyism,’ the Red Scare originated in the belief that American spies gave Soviet’s the information they needed to produce successful nuclear tests in 1949.

ICAT uses a bare stage which emphasises the stark landscape of late 17th century Salem, Massachusetts. Throughout the whole play there are maybe five settings, each adorned with wooden boxes that function as walls, tables, and as the trial begins, seats for judge, jury, and executioner.

Every character is touched by religion in some way. Talk of the devil hangs heavy in the air. In each conversation his fearful name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. In Salem, the belief in mortal sin shapes the social fabric of the town, and influences the hysteria that pulses throughout the community.

crucible eyes

The play begins with Reverend Parris’ (Max Anderson’s) daughter Betty lying unconscious across the wooden boxes. One night ago the Reverend saw the village girls dancing in the woods and, upon jumping out of the bushes he had been hiding in, shocked his daughter so much that she passed out.

Conspiracy theories abound.

Parris is convinced that his niece Abigail Williams (Phoebe Fischer) has something to do with his daughter’s illness. Under the Reverend’s suspicious gaze, something as innocent as dancing turns into summoning the devil, much to Abigail’s denial. Anderson plays the pious clergyman perfectly: his stern expression and unwavering stature form the basis for the man who survives the play, firmly on the side of the uncompromising courts. Sanity appears in the form of farmer John Proctor (Vince Gray) and Reverend Hale (James Ainsworth), but this is short lived.

Hale warns Parris that he should not prescribe any supernatural reasoning to Betty’s unconscious state. Giles Corey (Guy Thompson) enters the scene, and the sanity ends there.

Satire runs throughout the play.

Corey is quick to claim he saw one of the girls flying over a barn the night they were dancing. As talk of witch craft abounds, Corey mentions that his wife reads books, something he will later regret as she is put on trial for witch craft.

The play centers around the one time affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams. Gray plays a haunted man who wants to right his wrongs, and a man now wholly dedicated to his wife Elizabeth (Julie Hannan). In one tender scene he tells her: ‘I mean to please you, Elizabeth’. He spurns Abigail’s desire to continue their relationship, and in a fit of jealous rage Abigail accuses Elizabeth of doing the Devil’s work. The strands of plot weave together to form the image of a broken community, so fearful and intent on purifying their town that they accuse their neighbours without reason.

Mary Warren (Carly O’Hare) embodies the stress caused by this toxic society, and the desperate search for the truth. Caught between her master John Proctor who urges her to tell the truth and the lying, spiteful Abigail, Mary crumbles under the intense gaze of her suspicious peers. O’Hare fits the bill for a woman in distress: as Mary is pulled this way and that by John and Abigail, her agonised expression shows her torment.

Ethel and Julius

Mary brings to mind the Rosenbergs. Miller published his play in the year that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed. Thought to have passed atomic secrets to Russia, Julius was arrested on July 17th, 1950. Ethel followed soon after. Shockingly, Ethel’s brother and sister-in-law (David and Ruth Greenglass) testified against the Rosenbergs to lessen their own sentence for the same crime.

Hours before their execution, Julius and Ethel penned a letter to their two young children. One section reads: ‘good cannot really flourish in the midst of evil; (that) freedom and all the things that go to make up a truly satisfying and worthwhile life, must sometimes be purchased very dearly.’

Nothing is won in Miller’s play. The struggling embers of truth die out along with John and Elizabeth. Friends are lost, lovers turn, and the corrupting force of isolated religious superstition ruins all in its path.

 

Lancaster University Presents: Dunsinane

Dunsinane centers around the discovery that not only is Lady Macbeth still alive, but that she has a son

Dunsinane is David Greig’s take on the aftermath of Macbeth, and the LUTG’s (Lancaster University Theatre Group’s) performance is Gail Breslin’s take on Greig’s script.

Having killed Macbeth, Malcolm (William Evans) ascends the bloody steps to the throne only to discover that Lady Macbeth (Rose Briggs), called Gruach in this version, is still alive. Dunsinane centers around the discovery that Gruach has a fifteen year old son who is the rightful heir to the throne.

I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.

Lady Macbeth

Gruach urges her son to flee to the safety of the woods as Siward (played by Josh Hawley) and his troops invade.

Instructed to secure Malcolm’s place on the throne, Siward mediates between the headstrong Gruach and the tyrannical Malcolm. Hawley plays the part of Siward with poise and control: he is a man focused on restoring peace, and this goal exudes out through words and his composure. The briefest flicker of an eyelid conveys Siward’s irritation, and these minute details are the first sign that there is an underlying anger to Siward, a brilliant foreshadowing on Hawley’s part.

Rose Brigg’s plays a convincing Gruach: her version of Lady Macbeth is headstrong and proud, and her anger is tangible in the moments where her son’s position as King is questioned:

The moon could rise at daytime and we could call it night.

The sun could rise at night time and we could call it day.

My son would still be king.

Tender moments abound.

Interspersed between acts of violence and scenes of bloodshed are pockets of realism in which soldiers one and two (Isaac Rolfe and Jordan Summerfield respectively) sit on a log in the forest and talk about nothing really, but this mindless chatter creates a sense of intimacy amidst the blood shed. Greig brings the audience swiftly back to the 11th century when, having arranged the bodies of his fallen comrades on the forest floor, Solder one frowns and says, ‘He looks pretty much the same as me.’

The Boy Soldier’s (Connor Gould’s) dramatic monologues are addressed to his mother, and are humorous while subtly hinting at the divide he experiences as an interloper in a strange land. At the beginning of the first scene the Boy Soldier exclaims, ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this but Scotland is cold!’ and swiftly moves on to say that in the villages around the castle there is only ‘cold air and the eyes of women.’

Gould conveys the soldier’s hope and melancholy through an assortment of emotions and a booming voice that show he is destined for the stage.

As the second act commences the audience is faced with an abruptly changed Siward: far from the peacemaker he had previously shown himself to be, the Earl of Northumberland turns murderous, enraged by Gruach’s devious nature. All pretense of creating unity is replaced by Siward’s  attempt to eliminate the rightful heir to the throne: Gruach’s son.

The LUTG’s  production of Dunsinane is a triumph of precise casting and adherence to Grieg’s vision. At just £9 per ticket, the production is a bargain for any seasoned theater-goer who appreciates a passion for performance.