The Crucible by Arthur Miller

 

Programme Note

The Crucible by the American playwright Arthur Miller, is a powerful drama of intolerance, prejudice and the dangers of religious fundamentalism.

Miller sets the play in Salem, a small town in Massachusetts, U.S.A., in 1692. As a result of some amateur dabbling in the supernatural by a group of adolescent girls the local jails were eventually filled with men and women accused of witchcraft Twenty of them were hanged at Gallows Hill in Salem after lengthy and dubious trials in which the girls were encouraged to make accusations against their elders. Much of the evidence was discredited later as malicious and false. These are the historical facts used by Miller.

To understand this phenomenon we have to remember that the inhabitants of Salem believed in witches and the Devil, and also believed that the Bible instructed them that witches must be hanged. The seeds of this terrifying event had grown in an isolated society under great pressure to defend it's Christian way of life in a new continent and to protect their society against attacks by Indians in the unknown land behind them.

The characters in the play are based on real life people who took part in the events portrayed. Miller altered some details, for example John Proctor was a tavern keeper and not a farmer.

After the fever died down the Rev Parris was voted from office. He walked away and was never heard of again. Legend has it that Abigail turned up later in Boston as a prostitute. Elizabeth married again four years after John Proctor's death.

Twenty years after the last execution the government awarded compensation to the victims still living, and to the families of the dead. However, some people were unwilling to admit their guilt for some of the beneficiaries were not victims but informers.

In solemn meeting in March 1712, the congregation rescinded the excommunications on the orders of the government. The jury wrote a statement praying forgiveness of all those who had suffered. Certain farms which had belonged to the victims were left to ruin, and for more than a century no one would buy or live on them, but to all intents and purposes the power of theocracy in Massachusetts was broken. Three centuries later, on October 31st 2001, a pardon for the final five "witches" was signed into law by the State Government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts after a protracted campaign by descendants of the victims.

It is generally considered that Miller meant the play as an attack on McCarthyism, the political "witch-hunt" in America in the 1950's. However, the play was first produced before McCarthy's hearings began. In the present situation in today's world the play seems even more relevant.

John Hester November 2001

 

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Review from the Magazine of the Parish Church St. John-at-Hampstead

Arthur Miller wrote of The Crucible that it portrayed 'one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history'. We who have lived through the twentieth century have supped full of horrors, so these are strong words - especially as he underlines the historical accuracy of the play. It was not surprising therefore that from the moment we were confronted with the skilful and menacing set which John Risebero had designed for the play we knew we were headed for dark and unlovely places.

The Hampstead Players [note the exhibition of their twenty-five years of achievement] have never shirked a challenge, and here was a challenge of a particular kind. The play gives us little respite from the onward surge of fear and persecution until the final fall on the scaffold. John Hester and Pat Gardner brought to this a profound understanding and a production that gave full weight to the drama of conflict [conflict, it has been said, is a man trying to get through a locked door.] The locked door here is between those who are blindfolded by their beliefs and those who can see. Through scenes of what has been called 'scorching drama' we were led to the heart of the conflict, by means of acting of an exceptionally high standard.

In so long a cast I cannot [though I would like to] name them all. Mark Young as the dubious Samuel Parris led us into the troubled complexities of the play with just the right air of profound apprehension. Inevitably John Proctor takes centre stage as a troubled man who makes his journey through this jungle of superstition finally to his resolve when he tears up his confession. In what was surely one of his best performances David Gardner brought him clearly before us with convincing strength. [Certainly the final scene where he wrestles with his conscience, and with Hale and Danforth, and like a note of doom, the cry goes "the sun is up" has great tension and force.] In Bill Risebero's moving and sensitive performance John Hale was a true and arresting personality - it seemed right that he should be found kneeling at the end when Elizabeth Proctor lives through her husband's execution. And here, as earlier, Angela Bates was extremely moving as Elizabeth.

I found that the play gained even greater power and pace in the second act, and I was much impressed by John Willmer as Danforth. He spoke with such authority that I almost felt he had come to set all to rights, but of course life - and The Crucible - isn't like that, and Danforth was amongst the blind. Most impressive too were the girls, especially Abigail and Mary Warren. Emily Paine gave us a very real Abigail - she had a fine quality of stillness. Georgina Cox made the pitiful hysteria of Mary Warren painfully moving. And I cannot forget Gaynor Bassey as Tituba - she was the nearest we came to a light touch and as always wonderfully at home in her part.

All of these - and those others who played with them - were given sure help by Joan Barton and her assistants. The severe Puritan dress gave the right dimension to the play and made it a pleasure to the eye. The sound [music, being the food of love would have been out of place here] was perfectly overseen by Matthew Risebero.

This, it seemed to me, was a craggy mountain of a play, which the Hampstead Players - both those on stage and behind it - triumphed in climbing, and in so doing gave us a haunting experience which it will be hard to forget.

 

Diana Raymond December 2001

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Act One

 

 

 

 

 

Act Two

 

 

 

 

 

Act Three

 

 

 

 

 

Act Four

 

 

 

 

 

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