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The Crucible review at Pitlochry Festival Theatre – ‘tense and evocative’

Harry Long and Fiona Wood in The Crucible at Pitlochry Festival Theatre

While other shows in Elizabeth Newman’s inaugural repertory season have  emphasised nostalgic musical theatre and light comedy, Newman’s only entirely self-directed piece is Arthur Miller’s play of claustrophobic insularity.

In many ways, this staging of The Crucible is also a powerful statement of intent from Newman, not least in her use of a full ensemble of 17 performers throughout.

While this often makes for a busy stage, the intensity of focus upon the core story is maintained; that of God-fearing but critical 17th-century Massachusetts farmers John and Elizabeth Proctor’s efforts not to be swept away by a hysterical collective fever.

Harry Long and Claire Dargo invest these central roles with just the right balance of stoicism and growing disbelief in the face of institutional madness, with Fiona Wood’s conniving servant girl Abigail, Ali Watt’s troublingly fanatical clergyman Reverend Parris and Deirdre Davis’ all-powerful judge Danforth – an implacable evocation of the human vanity that can unbalance the scales of justice – lined up against them.

Adrian Rees’ set is very effective, consisting of an open stage and an old iron bridge that raises and lowers to become a wall, walkway or elevated pedestal, while there’s subtly subdued live musical accompaniment from Ben Occhipinti.

It’s Newman’s mustering of her varied resources to create a work of propulsive dramatic tension and pinpoint contemporary relevance that impresses most, however. Six decades on from McCarthy, stages sadly seem ripe once more for such a perfectly refreshed treatise on the unreliability of weaponised truth.

Pitlochry artistic director Elizabeth Newman: ‘Open every window and door – let everyone in’

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Elizabeth Newman directs a tense, evocative and rarely more relevant revival of Arthur Miller's play