Seeing as I have this gift membership for Sadler’s Wells theatre, on Tuesday evening after work I went to see Scottish Ballet perform their adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible.
The play is inspired by the Salem witch trials of 1692, but was also written as an allegory for the post-war witch-hunt of those with alleged communist ties in Hollywood, leading to many in the industry being blacklisted in the 1940s-50s. Some people were even imprisoned for refusing to testify. Arthur Miller himself was convicted of ‘contempt of congress’ for refusing to identify others who had been at meetings he’d attended…
In a devout Puritan village in Massachusetts, teenager Abigail works for John & Elizabeth Proctor, but ends up having an affair with John, discovered by Elizabeth, and she is fired. Abigail and her friends head into the forest, having followed Tituba, the slave of Revd Parris, and she tries to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor. Frenzied dancing ensues until Revd Parris discovers them and finds his daughter Betty has collapsed. Betty is carried back to the house and Revd Hale, an expert in witchcraft is summoned to investigate. In the process of trying to exorcise the bewitched Betty, a dark force is unleashed and the group of girls begin to accuse lots people in the village of witchcraft. Tituba is framed for witchcraft and jailed. Abigail is the niece of Revd Parris, so her accusations hold sway in the proceedings that follow. The villagers become suspicious of each other and accusations fly, leading to many court hearings. Abigail plants a poppet (mini-doll stuck with a pin) of herself in the Proctor’s home to frame Elizabeth. The authorities search the house and discover this ‘evidence’ of Elizabeth’s witchcraft. Eventually, the affair between John and Abigail is made public, but Elizabeth’s continued denial of the affair leads to her own condemnation. John is also accused of witchcraft and sentenced.
I’ve never seen Scottish Ballet before, so I was very excited to watch a different ballet company on stage. I’ve also never read The Crucible – the only Arthur Miller play I’ve read is A View from the Bridge when I was at school. As you can tell from the storyline and subject matter, the show was quite dark, with a constant sense of menace hanging in the air. With choreography by Helen Pickett, the dancers were fantastic – the dancer playing the role of Abigail performed some very effective jerky, off-kilter movements, visually representing her mental and emotional state. Unusually for a ballet, there was laughter and also screaming from the dancers at various points, which made it even more disconcerting.
I wouldn’t say this was my favourite ballet as it was so dark, but it was very well done and the story kept me gripped until the end.