Farber makes Miller’s tale more pow­er­ful than ever

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

THE CRU­CIBLE

Old Vic, Lon­don SE1

THE SENSE of fore­bod­ing is im­me­di­ate and never re­cedes. Yaël F a r ber’ s gr i pping re­vival of Arthur Miller’s 20th-century clas­sic is con­jured out of a shad­owy gloom by in­can­ta­tion. A woman chants while trac­ing the perime­ter of the Old Vic’s in­ti­mate in-the-round stage. It is as if the pop­u­la­tion of Salem, Mas­sachusetts, has been sum­moned to re-en­act the 17th-century witch tri­als that made the town fa­mous. They gather like ghosts trapped in a cau­tion­ary tale — one that Miller wrote to por­tray the in­jus­tices of the anti-Com­mu­nist purges of his own era. And as the in­no­cent lives of Salem’s pop­u­la­tion are ran­domly ru­ined with ac­cu­sa­tions of witch­craft, the 1953 play still brings to mind the McCarthy hear­ings that just as ea­gerly de­stroyed rep­u­ta­tions.

Richard Ar­mitage, whose deep-fath­omed voice could play God’s, gen­er­ates storm-force power as the farmer John Proc­tor, al­though it is ac­tu­ally an un­com­pli­cated role to play. Proc­tor is a good, hard-work­ing man whose only flaw is that his head was once turned by his for­mer maid Abi­gail (a stun­ning de­but by Samantha Col­ley). It’s the kind of flaw that makes him hu­man and so is not re­ally a flaw at all.

Still, the beefy Ar­mitage has the bear­ing to carry the full weight of Miller’s moral author­ity, while Col­ley mag­nif­i­cently trans­mits Abi­gail’s abil­ity to con­trol men — with sex, in­no­cence or a ter­ri­fy­ingly con­vinc­ing piety. There’s also ter­rific work by Wil­liam Gaunt as Proc­tor’s plain-speak­ing neigh­bour Giles, and Jack El­lis as the mer­ci­less judge.

The rev­e­la­tion here, how­ever, is that Miller’s play has as much to say about to­day’s re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism as it does about his in­tended tar­gets.

And the sur­prise is that Farber’s pro­duc­tion so tri­umphantly sus­pends time that three-and-a-half hours pass un­no­ticed.

DAY­TONA

Theatre Royal Hay­mar­ket, Lon­don SW1

SOME­TIMES RE­TURN­ING to a play can change a mind. But even one of the West End’s grand­est the­atres can­not change the im­pres­sion that Oliver Cot­ton’s work, first seen at the Park Theatre last year, is an all-too whim­si­cal at­tempt to grap­ple with heavy­weight themes such as Jewish iden­tity and the moral­ity of ex­act­ing re­venge in cold blood.

Set in Brook­lyn 1986, the cosy lives of Jewish cou­ple Elli (Mau­reen Lip­man) and Joe (Harry Shearer) are rudely in­ter­rupted by the ar­rival of Joe’s brother Billy (played by Cot­ton, who is best known as an ac­tor). Billy hasn’t seen them for 30 years. He comes with news that re­calls their ex­pe­ri­ence of a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp.

Cot­ton’splot­plateauswith­out­cli­max. Theon­lyre­al­clas­son­viewisLip­manand the­di­a­logueison­ly­fun­ny­when­com­ing out of her mouth. I haven’t changed my mind about that, ei­ther.

JO­HAN PERSSON

Richard Ar­mitage and Samantha Col­ley shine in The Cru­cible

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