Not Much of a Melting Pot: The Crucible at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
The Crucible's never been one of my favourite plays and I avoided teaching it as an A-Level set text. But the offer of cheap tickets and a favourite venue- The Regents Park Open Air Theatre - convinced me to go along. I'm glad did.
Arthur Miller's play, inspired by Massachusetts witch-hunts in 1697,felt surprisingly at home. At an 8pm start, birdsong and a balmy June evening made a pleasant backdrop to the rural setting. By the end, huge trees, visible only in inky silhouette, helped create a mood of claustrophobic menace.
Miller found parallels between this story and the purges of the American entertainment industry in the late 1940s/early 1950s, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) interrogated writers and directors. Fuelled by a frenzy of anti-Communist sentiment and the fear of conspiracy, investigators threatened suspected left-wing sympathisers with imprisonment or blacklisting. Immunity could be achieved by implicating others.
The play's theme of personal integrity versus a dogmatic regime is seen to be of universal relevance, which makes it popular. Despite the supposed recognition in places like post-Mao China, it has always seemed to me a particularly American play.
The production design is simple - a tilted house-facade provided trapdoors through which characters appeared as if at times from some infernal depths. The grassy area around the stage was often filled with bonnetted women murmuring and gasping as events unfolded. Emma Cuniffe was strong as the wife of John Proctor, the flawed hero who makes a stand against the religious bigotry of the time. Patrick O'Kane attracted sympathy as the man broken by an almost impossible choice, and the ensemble playing was adequate. It's unfortunate that the individuality of the characters isn't sufficiently realised.