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The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller died in February 2005. The Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated this staging to his life and work...

Published on March 20th 2006.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller died in February 2005. The Royal Shakespeare Company dedicated this staging to his life and work.

A group of young women are caught innocently playing pubescent games in 17th Century Salem in the Commonwealth of Massachusets. From such small beginnings allegations of witchcraft fuelled by religious extremism and the paralysis of " good people " builds to a deadly brew of the inevitable.

The play was written in a time when Senator Joseph Joseph McCarthy used the House UnAmerican Activities Committee as a weapon to destroy many reputations and establish his own. Think of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, of the rooting out of real and imagined spies, communists, fellow travellers, in fact anybody who denied the Committee's self proclaimed remit in book, play or film and then picture the fear which gripped much of America. So many good people paralysed.

Now wind your clock forward about 50 years. A world where certain politicians used fear and selective information to destroy the rule of law to help reinforce half baked ideas and beliefs and then called in support eager advocates of religious extremism to permeate such fear and despair.

Now wind the same clock back through the centuries and see humanity repeatedly acting in the same way never learning from precedent, experience or justice ( whatever that is ).

In The Crucible, Miller produced the most important play of the second half of the 20th century. It is still as compelling as it ever was. It speaks stridently and as a Cassandra-like presager of our failure to learn from the past. A horror story for our time.

And how does the RSC cope with such an immense responsibility to our generation? Brilliantly, bloody Brilliantly. A mesmeric evening tells this tale for our time in a story which will draw an emotional response from everyone privileged to see it.

From the masterful Iain Glen an intense and heart rending John Proctor to a wonderful James Laurensen as Danforth and the brilliant Robert Bowman as Reverend John Hale this is an ensemble without a weakness.

The words demand and receive an outstanding dissection in a play wonderfully directed by Dominic Cooke and designed sparingly and with great skill by Hildegard Bechtler . The full force of the play still resonates days after seeing it. In a great RSC season this is its tour de force . It is now off to the West End following its brief sojourn in Stratford .

If you only see one play in the next year make it this production. A Masterpiece performed mightily by a great company at the height of its powers .

Richard Burbage

The Crucible runs at the Gielgud Theatre in London for a limited season from the 29 March. Box Office 0870 950 0915..

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