The Crucible at The Yard, Hackney Wick – ‘heart-rending scenes and a trippy trip to Salem’

THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

The Yard’s AD Jay Miller directs this atmospheric multiverse in which women are men are women are witches and some of them are dressed as Asda security guards and some of them carry giant foam microphones and some of them are demons and who can you even trust? and what can you believe? and, and, and… my head hurts.

Watching this three-hour trippy-trip to Salem, in which a word can get you killed, is a bit like being on Twitter. Alternative facts abound and one badly structured sentence or poorly formed argument and suddenly you are the enemy of all that is good and holy – and you must be hung by the neck at dawn.

The production starts simply and clearly, with rows of chairs labelled with the characters’ names (handy if you aren’t familiar with the play). The walls are wrapped with rows of elastic or thread, like a giant weaving loom, or a cat’s cradle. Arthur Miller’s stage directions and character descriptions being flatly read out. Lighting has a red-tint. The smell of melting wax fills the air. It works – character summaries give on-the-nose insights into the characters and although the rows of chairs are static, the cast’s faces are animated enough that it doesn’t get boring.

THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

Caoilfhionn Dunne plays John Proctor and, in the lead-up to the show, much was made of the fact that the role was being held by a woman for the first time. She was magnificent. Her defensiveness of his/her wife Elizabeth took on new depths of meaning when you saw it as a woman standing up for womenkind being wronged. At other points, she played the role with a constrained masculinity that made you forget she was a woman playing a man’s role and her gender disappeared.

Emma D’arcy (Naomi from BBC’s Wanderlust) was also wonderful. First the woman whose ‘cold house’ kept her from forgiving her husband, then a warmer, tender wife, despairing for her husband’s soul. The final scenes between her and Dunne were beautiful and heart-rending.

THE CRUCIBLE by Arthur Miller ; Directed by Jay Miller ; Set Design by Cécile Trémolières ; Costume Designer Oliver Cronk ; Lighting Designer Jess Bernberg ; Sound Design by Josh Anio Grigg ; Video Design by Sarah Readman ; Magic Consultant Tim Bromage ; Composer: Jonah Brody ; Assistant Director: Charlotte Fraser ; Voice Coach: Rachel Coffey ; Dramaturg: Laura Collier ; The Yard ; London, UK ; 27 March 2019 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

Now we must talk about all the stuff – the mixing of costumes from different periods, even within the same scene, the flatscreen TV turned inexplicably on its side in a 17th-century courtroom, the large colourful microphones. The weird, plastic face-masks of the hovering figures that were present but took no action. The drama was enough, the lighting was excellent in its moodiness, the gender-switching was intriguing, the set was fab, there was no need for all the extra, confusing, mind-boggling stuff. Luckily none of that detracted from what was a brilliantly gripping staging of Miller’s classic text, but it didn’t add much either.

Definitely worth seeing. Buy tickets from £5 at theyardtheatre.co.uk/theatre/events/the-crucible

The Crucible runs 27 March – 11 May | 7:30pm Monday – Friday, 1pm & 7pm Saturdays.

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