Philobiblon: A women's story through male eyes

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A women's story through male eyes

The basic story of the Salem witchcraft trials is well known. At its centre was a group of young women who made increasingly wild accusations about spirits, demonic possession, and malevolent attacks. It is these young women, led by the spiteful, slighted Abigail (Elaine Cassidy) who open Arthur Miller's powerful exploration of the story, The Crucible.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's version - its first Miller production - has just transferred to the Gielgud in London. This is a powerful, classy effort (as you'd expect), with a highly topical theme. Miller wrote the play in the Fifties, when McCarthyism was at its height, and today, with restrictive new laws forbidding "glorification of terrorism" coming into effect today, and a scent of panic in the air, it is again all too relevant.

The three hours never drag, as a small Puritan town gradually implodes into a frenzy of wild allegation. Miller presents, and the production magnifies, one potential slant of the conflict, as a class and generational war that sees the poorer, younger women finally getting their revenge against the older women and men who've used their labour and heavily disciplined their lives.

The production makes particular effective use of the pregnant pause, the long heavy silence, its actors arrayed in carefully composed tableaus that are almost picture-perfect, within stone-grey wallls that hold - just - the threat of nature, or sexuality, of change, without. READ MORE

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