By Andy Brooks
Back in the 17th century a wave of hysteria swept a small town in what was then the English colony of Massachusetts in New England. Based on the accusations of children, the largely Puritan settlers of Salem started an enquiry that turned into a frenzied witch-hunt that was used to settle old scores between rival factions in the town. Twenty people, 14 of them women, were executed and five others, including two infants, died in prison before the whole process was halted by broader public opinion.
Salem became such a by-word for superstition, bigotry and persecution that it inspired Arthur Miller to write this play during the notorious anti-communist “witch-hunts” of the early 1950s led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the notorious House of Un-American Activities Committee.
The Crucible is a dramatic interpretation of the Salem witch trials of 1692 but it is clearly an analogy of McCarthyism, which hounded communists and those whom the rabid Senator deemed to be ‘fellow-travellers’ out of their jobs. Those that refused to become turncoat informers were often forced to go into voluntary exile. Some were even jailed on trumped charges of conspiracy, subversion or being agents of the Soviet Union.
Miller himself said that the Crucible was “by far my most frequently produced play, both abroad and at home. Its meaning is somewhat different in different places and moments. I can almost tell what the political situation in a country is when the play is suddenly a hit there – it is either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past.”
The current production by the Sell A Door Theatre Company and the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch began in February at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, another part of Essex now in Greater London, and will now tour the country.
It stars Charlie Condou, best known for playing Marcus Dent in Coronation Street, as the witch-hunter Reverend Hale, and Victoria Yeates of BBC’s Call the Midwife fame. It is directed by the Queen’s Theatre’s Artistic Director, Douglas Rintoul.
It’s currently on in Dartford and moves to Cheltenham next week. Check out the full details of the Crucible UK Tour on the web to see if it’s coming anywhere near you. It’s well worth a visit.