The Crucible

Edinburgh Playhouse

Mary Brennan


Between the lines of Arthur Miller’s play there is unspoken turmoil: Helen Pickett’s two-act ballet, The Crucible – premiered by Scottish Ballet at the weekend – brings these turbulent undercurrents to the surface in choreography that cuts to the very bones of what will erupt in Salem. Let’s start, as Pickett does, with the moment of casual adultery that inevitably shames John Proctor (Nicholas Shoesmith) and sends Abigail (Constance Devernay) spiralling out of girlish wistfulness into a darker state of vengeful malice.

Devernay totally understands what Pickett reads in Abigail, revealing the unwanted orphan who yearns to have a family of her own. Unfortunately, the Proctors aren’t that family. When John shows a horny interest in Abigail, she only hesitates briefly before launching herself into their duet of feral coupling. You can feel the heat and lust in every move. But this is Salem, and a dogmatic religious order prevails. When Reverend Parris (a vehement Thomas Edwards) prays, the whole community mirrors his worshipful gestures: it’s faith by rote in Pickett’s punctilious movement.

Into the woods, and what might at first have been rebellious childs-play morphs into primal abandon. Tituba, Parris’s slave, channels her African roots with a rhythmic sinousity that guest artist Cira Robinson (of Ballet Black) nonetheless imbues with grace and dignity. The girls join in, are discovered and suddenly the witch hunt is up... The “Men of God” will arrive, like a military task-force, implacable and brisk. The girls will shriek and faint and point accusing fingers, tasting a sudden power trip over adults. And, in a series of exquisitely nuanced duets, John and his wife (Araminta Wraith) will re-discover their abiding love in performances that speak superbly of frailty, forgiveness and reconciliation before brutal hypocrisy intervenes. Peter Salem’s music (played live) has a wonderful cinematic sweep, echoed in the swift scene changes on a starkly bare stage that ensure the pace never flags. A triumph for the company.

Sponsored by Baillie Gifford