The Crucible – a strange and awful chapter in history

‘I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history.’

So wrote Arthur Miller of his play The Crucible, the dramatized and partially fictionalised story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692 and 1693.

Now on at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum, the performances are universally strong and perfectly timed. From the opening scene through to the end, the production (directed by John Dove) is utterly absorbing.

The play opens with Reverend Parris (Greg Powrie) watching over his daughter, unable to waken after being seen dancing in the woods with her young friends. The first mentions of the dreaded witchcraft are made.

The central role of John Proctor, the farmer whose one adulterous act leads to the allegations of witchcraft and all that follows, is played with raw and brooding brilliance by Philip Cairns. Painfully aware of the ruinous effect this act may have on Salem, the deep guilt he feels is always present.

Meghan Tyler plays the villain of the piece, Abigail Williams, perfectly. Eyes blazing, she is out for revenge and will do whatever it takes to get it, cruelly accusing countless decent women of witchcraft at a time when women are likely to be hanged for reading books, delivering stillborn babies or not attending church.

Richard Conlon and Ron Donachie (Deputy Governor Danforth) deserve particular mention. Conlon, as Reverend John Hale, captures the crisis of conscience and the overwhelming urge to do the right thing. Donachie, as Deputy Governor Danforth, in Salem to preside over the witch trials, has great presence as the man who likes to see himself as completely fair and just.

The set design by Michael Taylor, together with the lighting by Tim Mitchell, is dark and brooding, and perfect in its simplicity. The change from house to court ante-room to jail is achieved by the movement of furniture or change of a window.

Reconciled for a final time at the end of the play, the scene between John and his wife Elizabeth, played beautifully by Irene Allan, is intensely intimate and profoundly moving. John is torn between the desire to survive, and the high price demanded for it. The audience, already silent, seems to have collectively stopped breathing.

The Crucible is a thought-provoking and moving play, with a story that still rings true today and stays with you long after the curtain has fallen.


Running at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until 19 March 2016. For more information go to or phone 0131 248 4848.

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