The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and directed by Caroline Steinbeis

The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester is my favourite Manchester building as it sums up for me, the city of Manchester. Housed inside a 19th century building in the Great Hall where cotton was traded, it is a theatre in the round; set in a sputnik like structure, a visitor from the future. The board from the last day of trading looks down. It is a perfect fusion of 21st century creativity and past glories.

The Crucible lived up to expectation and seemed oddly fitting in the cauldron of the theatre structure. Set in Salem, New England, it drew on the story of the Salem witches of the late seventeenth century. The play was first performed in 1953 amidst the McCarthy enquiries and the parallels between the situations must have resonated with those first audiences, and in the modern day, it asked questions about society today. 

As an examination of how an organisation or community exerts control through excluding disagreement or dissent, the performance succeeded. The set, a simple shining circle emphasised the boundaries around the society through its simplicity and starkness. It was only at the end when the entire area flooded as the witch hunt was becoming untenable that I felt that it was beginning to distract from the story. It interrupted my concentration and I found myself watching the actors wading about, aware that they were actors playing a part. However, the water itself seemed to show both the fabric of society unravelling and at the same time, echoed thoughts of cleansing and washing away of the past.

Fear and suspicion spread through the village as the investigation into the accusations of witchcraft took hold. As a member of the audience, I felt this tension and distrust to the end. 

In short: I found it a compelling play to watch.


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