Arthur Miller’s 1950s forensic, passionate examination of personal and public morality still resonates. After All My Sons in Regent’s Park and Ivo van Hove’s stunning, stripped-back A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic, Yael Farber, best known for her racially, sexually potent version of Ibsen, Mies Julie, tackles the famous witchcraft metaphor for McCarthyism.
In 1965, when Olivier directed the play at this same theatre, Miller hoped that it had already been freed from such specificity. It is up-to-date wherever fear causes a reduction of freedom, wherever tyranny rules. Farber brings out its continued relevance with gutsy vigour, and Richard Armitage a theatre actor before Hobbit fame relishes mining the depths of John Proctor, a flawed but decent man, who chooses to die rather than accept a prevailing lie.
Anna Madeley, pinched and pale as his dignified wife, and Samantha Colley as wildly vengeful Abigail head the rest of an excellent cast, with veteran William Gaunt especially touching as Giles Corey.
Soutra Gilmour’s enveloping design obscures every scrap of gilt with grey drapes, Tim Lutkin’s lighting paints interiors, while Richard Hammarton’s soundscape suggests heartbeats and raw nerve-ends.
The in-the-round setting has the advantage of implicating us all, but in the first half scene changes are awkward without a blackout. The emotional temperature rises to a stunning crescendo, however, with the hysterical girls moving together like a vicious cloud and flinging their hair in abandon as the innocent are hanged and the righteous bully victims into false confession. The final reconciliation of the Proctors is unforgettable.