The Crucible at the National Theatre: a ‘visually sumptuous’ production

Latest revival of 1953 Arthur Miller play is ‘masterly’ – but also rather on the ‘safe’ side

Still from The Crucible
A production ‘full of good ideas and atmospheric flourishes’

A key requirement for any revival of The Crucible is that it “doesn’t feel too much like a lecture in disguise”, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. Famously, Arthur Miller wrote his 1953 play – about the “juvenile-led spasm of denunciation and execution” that seized Salem, Massachusetts in 1692-3 – as a “chilling quasiallegory” for McCarthyite anticommunism.

Lyndsey Turner’s “gripping” production “magnificently” passes that test – providing drama without didacticism. And even if the director doesn’t quite “reinvent” the piece, she thoroughly “refreshes it, honouring the specificity but banishing clutter”, and creating an “awe-inspiring monumentalism”. This is “the National at its best”.

It’s a “masterly” production, agreed Theo Bosanquet on What’s on Stage – brilliantly paced, and so “visually sumptuous” it’s “like watching a live oil painting”. The performances, too, are top-notch. Brendan Cowell puts an earthy spin on the role of John Proctor, playing him as a “farmer with his feet firmly in the soil. You believe he could plough for hours on a Sunday”.

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As Abigail, Proctor’s vengeful teenage lover, Erin Doherty (the young Princess Anne in The Crown) is “skittish, frenzied and deeply malevolent” – and when she and the other girls “perform their wild hallucinations, it feels genuinely frightening”.

Turner’s production is “full of good ideas and atmospheric flourishes”, said Andrzej Lukowski on Time Out. Designer Es Devlin has created a spectacular “crashing wall of artificial rain that shrouds” the vast Olivier stage before every scene: combined with Tim Lutkin’s “exquisitely moody lighting, and the a cappella singing from the pink-clad chorus of girls”, this elemental cascade is spine-tingling. Yet for all the good ideas and fleet staging, it doesn’t amount to an “entirely coherent reinvention”.

This revival is certainly “handsomely raised”, but it is also rather on the “safe” side, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. What lingers in our minds afterwards is not so much the meat of Miller’s great drama, but the production’s “polished aesthetics”.

Olivier, National Theatre, London SE1. Until 5 November

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