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The Crucible factor

PUBLISHED: 15:36 28 October 2009 | UPDATED: 17:14 16 August 2010

IN an age in which public opinion can be so easily manipulated by the media, Arthur Miller s The Crucible seems ever more prescient, writes Mark Campbell. Staged at the Bob Hope Theatre recently, this strong production by Chris Williams emphasised the de

IN an age in which public opinion can be so easily manipulated by the media, Arthur Miller's The Crucible seems ever more prescient, writes Mark Campbell.

Staged at the Bob Hope Theatre recently, this strong production by Chris Williams emphasised the deleterious - and, in this instance, fatal - effect of listening to gossip and supposition, and only believing the worst in people.

The Crucible is Miller's version of one of the most chilling events in American history - the witch trials and executions that occurred in Salem during the 17th century.

It's also a thinly disguised indictment of the McCarthy 'witch-hunts' of the 1950s, in which many famous people were accused (often wrongly) of Communism, including Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles.

Some experts have said that the horrific events in Salem were down to mass hysteria, but Miller's play gives us a psychologically more interesting hypothesis.

In a hugely religious community, surrounded by inhospitable terrain and understandable unfriendly native Americans, the people of Salem were living on fear - what happened there was merely a time bomb waiting to go off.

Chris Williams' stark set design, illuminated in varying degrees of gloom by Stuart Gain, perfectly suited this tale of intractable despair. It's a shame that the haunting opening music wasn't re-used during the several scene changes.

Richard Rook gave a very powerful performance as John Proctor, the simple farmer accused of siding with the Devil. In reality, his 'only' sin was in lusting after the young Abigail Williams (Natalie Payne), a fact that his wife Elizabeth (Susie Clarke) is prepared to overlook - but her denial leads to tragic consequences.

Susie Clarke, Natalie Payne and Georgina Lampen (Mary Warren) gave superb performances in very demanding roles.

The large supporting cast looked and sounded just right, especially during the Act 2 trial scene, and the group of 'possessed' girls demonstrated frighteningly realistic hysteria.

As the Reverend Parris, Nick Noakes needed to curb his excessive eye-rolling mannerisms and display more iron as the play's only real villain, while Danforth, although looking every inch the Witchfinder General, was a little too comically Churchillian at times. I half expected him to produce a cigar.

Alan Ingram as Judge Hathorne seemed to be reading his lines from his ledger, while the casting of white actress

Clare Simpson in the role of a black Barbados slave is best described as an eccentric aberration in an otherwise solid production.

The current production at the Bob Hope Theatre is Little Shop of Horrors. Tickets: 020 8850 3702.

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