The Crucible ★★★★☆

Once upon a time in 1692, a group of young women in Salem, Massachusetts stirred up a fearsome cocktail of fear, paranoia, and deceit, leading to the infamous witch trials. Fast forward to 2023, and Lyndsey Turner’s revival of Arthur Miller’s timeless classic ‘The Crucible’ has brewed its own storm of drama at the Gielgud Theatre in London, on a mission to mesmerise audiences​.

The Crucible is a twisted tale of power abuse, false accusations, and tragic consequences. It’s a parable about the destructive power of falsehoods, where the accused are ‘witches,’ and the accusers are a handful of young girls led by the manipulative Abigail Williams. Turner’s deft direction masterfully captures the escalating hysteria, the desperate pleas for truth, and the inevitability of disaster.

Turner’s rendition is both laudably conventional and cutting edge, steering clear from heavy-handed modern allusions yet resonating with today’s zeitgeist. The play unfolds on Es Devlin’s breathtaking set, where a wall of rain, as relentless as the accusations within Salem, falls in torrents around the stage. It’s a powerful metaphor for the torrent of paranoia that sweeps over the town.

The Gielgud Theatre, smaller than the National where this production previously ran, cocoons the drama in a more intimate setting, enhancing the claustrophobic nature of the unfolding hysteria. Dirt piles high at the sides of the stage, with a steep rake and a downward sloping ceiling, hinting at the inescapable nature of the town’s predicament.

The ensemble cast is a force to be reckoned with, a 27-strong troupe that fills every corner of the stage with a talent as pervasive as the looming dread in the play. At the helm is Matthew Marsh, who delivers a mesmerising performance as Danforth, the deputy governor (i.e. the judge). His delivery is as otherworldly as it is captivating, setting a palpable tone that elevates the performances of everyone he interacts with.

Milly Alcock (House of the Dragon) makes her London stage debut as the impudent and intense Abigail Williams. She navigates the troubled waters of a young woman driven by panic and lust, her performance as solid and unwavering as the relentless downpour that frames the stage. She is the epicenter of the chaos, instigating a frenzy she can scarcely control. Alcock’s Abigail is not a villain nor a victim, but a complex character that stirs the pot of drama with a spoonful of mischief and a dash of desperation.

As the man caught in her storm, Brian Gleeson’s John Proctor is a solid anchor, a flawed hero wrestling with his past and desperate to cling to his reality.

The supporting cast provides their share of thunder and lightning, with Fisayo Akinade’s quietly crumbling Reverend Hale and Nadine Higgin’s scene-stealing Tituba. Special mention goes to Karl Johnson’s Giles Corey, who adds a sprinkle of humour to the proceedings – an unexpected seasoning in this heady brew.

Tim Lutkin’s lighting design is a masterstroke, beautifully capturing the shadowy undercurrents of the plot. With characters often appearing and disappearing into the darkness, the stage becomes a visual metaphor for the fear and suspicion that lurk within the town.

Turner’s direction marries Miller’s text with atmospheric elements to create a gripping piece of theatre. There are a few off notes – an occasionally intrusive soundbed, some distracting production elements – but they are minor squalls in an otherwise stormy masterpiece.

Like a pot of potion brewing under the crafty hands of a witch, this production bubbles with tension, drama, and a smattering of humour that adds a palatable zing to the usually somber proceedings.