The Crucible

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

three stars

THERE is an apposite, if anachronistic quotation from the writings of 7:84's John McGrath in the programme for Selladoor's touring production of Arthur Miller's great allegorical drama about the Salem witch trials. "Theatre can never 'cause' social change. It can articulate pressure towards one . . . ," it begins. That is a broad hint towards what turns out to be the chief difficulty with Douglas Rintoul's production. Although it is narratively assured – the many layers of personal relationships in the unfolding drama are rarely as lucidly expressed as they are by this company – it is also both determined that the audience never forgets it is watching a piece of theatre, and very keen to make explicit the link with McCarthyism and the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

The latter aim seems to me to skew the court-room third act, where Jonathan Tafler is allowed free rein to go the full Simon Callow as Danforth, rather than be the sober, if pompous, circuit judge that Miller wrote. This means that proceedings, and the dialectic that drives them, are allowed to upstage the human drama of John and Elizabeth Proctor after all the good work that Eoin Slattery and Victoria Yeates have put in before the interval.

The self-conscious theatricality of the production is, however, arguably more distracting – not just the visibility of the stanchions folding up the flats of Anouk Schlitz's spare design, and actors making their way through the wings for their entrance, but particularly the projection of stage directions on to the set of which the first one "Enter Thomas Putnam, a man with many grievances" is far from the most unnecessary.

All of which is a shame, because Yeates, Slattery, Charlie Condou as a rather young-looking Reverend Hale, and Lucy Keirl's striking Abigail Williams, head up a very accomplished cast in what is otherwise a gripping evening.