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The Crucible review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘a riveting traditional interpretation’

A scene from The Crucible at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Geraint Lewis A scene from The Crucible at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Geraint Lewis
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Arthur Miller, still a troubling figure to the far right in his native America, once said the natural home for his drama was England. He might have narrowed that down to Bristol, for this biting allegory for McCarthyism was given its first European staging by the Bristol Old Vic in 1954, and afterwards Miller became a regular visitor to the city for premieres of his later works.

Current artistic director Tom Morris is marking this week’s centenary of Miller’s birth with a traditional interpretation, apart from seating some of the audience at the rear of the stage, drawing them even closer to the turmoil and paranoia of the Salem witchcraft trials. As is so often the case with Miller, the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, and Morris’ tensile and articulate production is commendably faithful to the no-frills dialogue. It is easy to visualise the false accusations pervading village gossip in the 1690s being projected into the 21st century by the likes of Twitter.

The catalyst for the outpouring of bigotry and mountebank religion is John Proctor`s lust for manipulative teenager Abigail Williams, and here Dean Lennox Kelly (as Proctor) and Rona Morison (as Williams) give very differing but compelling performances as the play moves towards its shocking, yet uplifting ending.

Among the fine 20-strong cast, Neve McIntosh and Daniel Weyman project the loyal wife Elizabeth, and the increasingly troubled Rev.Hale, among the few warm characters, in contrast to Jude Akuwudike`s vengeful Rev. Parris and Jeffrey Kissoon`s blinkered deputy governor Danforth.

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Tom Morris’ riveting production discovers plenty of modern import in Miller’s great work, while retaining its power to shock