It’s sad to note that Arthur Miller’s 1953 conflation of the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings of the playwright’s own era has become resoundingly relevant once more. This is the second version of the summer to be staged by a Scottish company.
There’s visual and thematic comparison with The Handmaid’s Tale, of course – another story of the religious subjugation of wimple-wearing women. Away from the sharp shock of #MeToo timeliness, however, there are even deeper subtexts relating to the psychosis of insular societies and the fearsome violence possible at the end of the echo-chamber, groupthink rainbow.
Scottish Ballet’s triumphant new version of the text makes all of the above crushingly clear and accompanies it with a sense of terror and overwhelming dread that belies the beauty of Helen Pickett’s choreography. The flowing, devotional synchronicity of the entire cast in formation at worship is stunning, while the jerky, inhuman movements of the religious inquisitors and the fluttering en pointe shuffle of the quartet of young female accusers lend a sense of animals hunting in packs.
The vivid sensuality of John Proctor (Nicholas Shoesmith) and servant girl Abigail (Constance Devernay) is lit as shadow-play against the backdrop’s ominous tilting square cross, while Abigail’s wild fury at being snubbed dances itself out wildly through a shaft of light from the heavens.
The girls’ first night of ‘Satanic’ possession is eerie and elemental, the ultimate fate of the accused horrifying amid Peter Salem’s thunderous score. Miller’s text and the intentions behind it once more become relentlessly, fearsomely real.