Ostensibly about the 1692 Salem witch trials, The Crucible was, of course, also an allegory for the misery created by the McCarthy anti-Communist hearings of the 1950s in which Miller himself was also accused. As a piece of theatre its power is timeless, its messages still resonate.
A small town is torn apart by suspicion and unsubstantiated fear. At the root of the hysteria lies Abigail Williams, the poor relation of the local minister Reverend Parris (Garth Wright). A manipulative and vengeful teenager, she is skilfully portrayed by Nessa Wrafter (pictured)).
Having been discovered by her uncle dancing with other young townswomen and frightened by the consequences of having been caught in this forbidden act, Abigail starts playing some very dangerous games.
Melissa James plays Tituba, the Barbadian servent who is the first to fall victim to the girl’s accusations of witchcraft. The circle of blame soon widens under the careful leadership of Abigail who ultimately sets her sights upon Elizabeth Proctor, played here by Clea Langton.
Abigail was dismissed from the Proctors’ employ after Elizabeth rightfully suspected her of having an affair with her husband, John (Patrick Pilcher). Still lusting mightily for John, Abigail sets about an unfathomable chain of events which even she can no longer control.
It needs to be said that the entire cast were superb, and though with such large numbers it would be impossible to name everyone, the most notable performances would have to be those given by Benedick Swann as the morally tormented Reverend Hale and Sophie Henley as morally weak Mary Warren.
Credit must also be given to Tim Heywood for his inventive set design. The London Oratory Arts Centre is an exciting space and Heywood used it to its full potential.
Chelsea Players are an exciting yet reliable company, equally skilled at staging new writing as they are at reviving the classics, and this is one of their strongest productions yet. A delight.