REVIEW: Terrific production of a 20th century classic in Kenilworth

Palpable tensions in The Crucible
Palpable tensions in The Crucible

Charles Essex reviews The Crucible at the Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth

A ‘witch hunt’ means a fervid search for those considered a threat to the good of a community, but is often thinly veiled hysteria, panic and irrationality. The Salem Witch hunt in Massachusetts in 1692 epitomised this with fatal consequences because of vindictiveness, jealousy, greed and lust.

This production of Arthur Miller’s famous play was terrific. The large cast and crew all deserve praise as they portrayed the strained dialogue and arguments in the homes, the court and the prison. There was no overt violence but the tensions in this small community were palpable. The bare stage emphasised the Puritanical frugality; the cast sat at the back, watching, waiting to accuse or be accused. Fear, ignorance and hypocritical self-interest in this strongly religious community fuelled the terror as neighbours and relatives denounced each other. The accused had little choice: plead guilty to being in league with the Devil – a lie that paradoxically would set them free – or be hanged.

Villager John Proctor, superbly played by Dan Gough, was willing to confess to adultery to show that his mistress was claiming his wife was a witch to get rid of her – but to no avail, and he was condemned. In the tense final scene he made a last minute confession to be set free – but realising his signed confession was going to be nailed to the church door for all to read, he could not live with the shame of lying to save his life even though the charges were unjust.

Since Salem there have been numerous national witch hunts – Nazi Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, Pol Pot and in the USA in the 1950s, when Miller wrote the play. But it serves as a warning for today as social media can be used to hound those with different views.

* The Crucible runs until Saturday October 7. Call 01926 856548 to book.