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The Crucible at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – ‘doesn’t hang together’

A scene from The Crucible at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan A scene from The Crucible at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

It’s possible to appreciate the thinking behind Caroline Steinbeis’ take on Arthur Miller’s American classic – her modern dressing of the text – without being entirely swayed by it.

She has relocated Miller’s play to a god-fearing rural community in what appears to be the UK of today, where the women wear full-sleeved, figure-swamping dresses in unflattering pastel shades and people do not blink at the idea of a witch in their midst. It’s an interesting conceit but one that doesn’t quite come off.

Questions about where exactly these people are living and the nature of the rules which govern them rest heavily over things, and end up getting in the way; there are times when it all starts to bring to mind M Night Shyamalan’s film, The Village, which is never a good thing.

But fortunately Steinbeis draws some strong performances from her cast. Jonjo O’Neill is a potent Proctor, particularly during the upset of the play’s later scenes, and Matti Houghton gives a warm and nuanced turn as his wife, Elizabeth. Tim Steed also does good work as the increasingly conflicted Hale and Ria Zmitrowicz provides some necessary lightness as a sullen, child-mouthed Mary Warren.

There are some bold ideas here, the flooding of Max Jones’s rather over-literal set being one of them. But, again it feels like a thing that might have worked better on paper then in practice and leads to long passages where the cast are splashing about while Miller’s shining lines spiral up towards the ceiling, diluted.

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An ambitious modern reworking of Miller’s classic that doesn’t quite hang together