Arthur Miller’s tearing down of McCarthyism hysteria, told through the lens of the Salem witch trials of 1692, is clearly relevant to our current febrile political and social climate. But how would this adaptation of The Crucible bring something new to the enduring classic?

After being heavily marketed throughout Sheffield – Rose Shalloo’s defiant pose and steely gaze cutting across a gingham-covered table above a shock of spilled milk – I arrive with high expectations. Press night at the Crucible, for The Crucible. The venue is packed out and I wonder how many people have travelled from further afield to see Anthony Lau’s production. 

There’s something incredibly compelling about the Crucible as a performance space, and Georgia Lowe’s stark set design plays to its strengths. Tiered platforms at the back of the set serve as a choral stage, a gallery of judgement and a route to the world beyond. The use of microphones is carefully deployed at various points in the performance to great effect – a powerful rendering of both the desire to be heard and to silence others.

Millicent Wong (Mary Warren) and members of the company in The Crucible. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Meanwhile, casting director Jacob Sparrow has done a fantastic job, selecting a brilliantly diverse cast perfectly suited to their roles. Millicent Wong as Mary Warren has a talent for comedy but also manages to portray the heady thrill of suddenly finding a voice as a young girl – and the painful realisation that it’s a dangerous thing – magnificently. Guilliana Martinez is heartbreaking as Tituba, and Laura Pyper convincingly sows the seeds of suspicion through her righteous grief as Ann Putnam. In addition, Chris Poon as musical director gets the balance just right, especially with the choral pieces which add a haunting, transportive quality to proceedings at pivotal points.

I’ve seen criticism of so-called gimmicks in this production, but some devices really work. Characters giving testimony from atop a stack of chairs and having to stoop to the microphone below, for example, lay the power dynamics bare. And Jess Bernberg’s use of lighting is powerfully disconcerting – periodically throwing the house lights up to interrogate the audience, implicating us in the unfurling horror.

As for Shalloo’s Abigail Williams, her performance seems to have divided critics, and I struggle not to blame misogyny for that. She’s cunning, spiky, somewhat terrifying, and definitely not the pouting honey trap of other productions. I can’t name-check every cast member, but I loved the fact that this was a real ensemble piece with each and every player, however small their part, burning bright in the belly of the Crucible. An outstanding achievement.

By Amy Stone

Main image: Anoushka Lucas (Elizabeth Proctor) and Simon Manyonda (John Proctor) in The Crucible. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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The Crucible is at Crucible in Sheffield until March 30, 2024. For more information, click here.