Sept 22nd - Sept 25th 2004
Arthur Miller's classic play of mass hysteria, witch-hunts and treachery
Director Michael Horne.
The Stevenage Lytton Players Autumn 2004 Drama Production was The Crucible by Arthur Miller performed at the Lytton Theatre.
About the Play
“Sometimes an accusation is enough to destroy a life” Arthur Miller's classic parable of mass hysteria draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 - 'one of the strangest and awful chapters in human history' - and the McCarthy communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. This is the story of how the small community of Salem, Massachusetts is stirred into madness by superstition, paranoia and malice. It is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations. It is based on a true story. Although written to highlight the dangers and stupidity of the McCarthy witch-hunts, today it is equally relevant. Accusations stick and lives are destroyed - has society really moved on since 1692?
The play opens in the house of Reverend Parris. He is praying over the inert form of his daughter Betty who, we learn, is one of several Salem girls who were seen dancing in the woods. This dancing later gives rise to them all being accused of witchcraft.
In order to explain the state of his daughter, Parris calls upon Reverend John Hale, an expert in rooting out the existence, or non-existence of witchcraft.
We also meet several people from the village who have come to find out what is happening with young Betty Parris, as well as several of the girls who were seen dancing with her. We learn that one of the villagers, John Proctor, has had an extra-marital affair with one of the girls, Abigail.
As the first act comes to a close, Betty comes out of her fugue and, reacting to some, unintentionally leading, statements from Hale, she and the other girls begin to denounce women from the village, claiming that they have seen them as witches, in the presence of the Devil.
The second act takes place in the Proctor's living room. Through their exchanges, we learn that their marriage is very strained. The affair between John and Abigail still hangs in the air and Elizabeth Proctor's suspicion is either present or expected in every sentence she speaks. We learn that the trials have started of those accused of communing with the Devil.
Mary Warren, one of the girls who danced in the woods, and the Proctors' servant, returns home from the court to tell that many women are now arrested and at least one has been sentenced to hang. She also mentions that Elizabeth's name is mentioned but that she (Mary) has tried to prevent it turning into an accusation. Elizabeth assumes, quite rightly, that the accusation comes from Abigail, who she believes wants to take her place at John's side. She asks John to go to court to denounce Abigail.
Reverend Hale arrives to talk on the matter of Elizabeth's accusation. He discusses with the Proctors their attitudes towards theology, faith and witchcraft. There is some doubt in his mind about the events in Salem and we can tell that he is not the kind of man to readily believe whatever he is taught. He is, however, taken aback at the Proctors' denial of the existence of witchcraft.
Shortly after, the officials of the court arrive. Despite Elizabeth's protestations of innocence and John's almost violent resistance, they arrest Elizabeth for the attempted murder of Abigail by witchcraft. After they have left, John turns on Mary Warren and makes her promise to come into court with him and denounce the accusations against his wife.
The third act takes place in the ante-room of the general court. Deputy Governor Danforth, in charge of the court proceedings, has been dealing out judgments and sentences on the various accused men and women. Proctor and Giles Corey, with the help of a deposition from Mary Warren, try to persuade Danforth of the good name of the accused women, most notably Elizabeth Proctor, Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse. They also try to imply that the girls who started the matter are frauds. Danforth calls in the girls who deny everything. In an act of desperation, the girls begin to tell Danforth that Mary Warren is sending her spirit out among them and, giving into the pressure, Warren implicates John Proctor in the devil's work. In desperation, Proctor denounces Abigail as a whore which causes Danforth to call in Elizabeth Proctor to confirm it.
Elizabeth, trying to protect the good name of her husband does not allow herself to tell Danforth about her husband's affair. By the time Proctor manages to call out to Elizabeth that he has confessed, it is too late, and she is taken out. Abigail starts to imply that Proctor is sending his evil spirit out onto her and Proctor is arrested for consorting with the devil. Reverend Hale, who has seen all this, quits the court.
Act four takes place some time later in a jail cell beneath the Salem court. In the time that has passed, Salem has become a virtual ghost town - orphans wander the streets and cattle die in their fields, unattended. Many women have been hanged and more are promised. Reverend Hale talks to the condemned, trying to mend the damage that he started, trying to get them to confess their sins of witchcraft, even if they must lie to save their lives. We learn that Giles Corey has been executed for refusing to answer the charges levelled at him. Hathorne has condemned several more to death and is eager to move on, but Hale persuades him to pardon any that confess before the morning.
Proctor has refused to confess and Elizabeth is sent in to persuade him to. At first, she fails because of Proctor's pride and his self-confessed guilt of his previous sins. However, she eventually persuades him that she forgives him the adultery and that he needn't take on the guilt any more. Proctor agrees to confess to witchcraft and communing with the devil and, for a moment, Danforth believes he has his true confession. Proctor, however, refuses to implicate anyone and also refuses to sign a confession to be posted up on the Salem church. Danforth, furious with Proctor and still unable to see the truth to the events in Salem tells the court officers to take Proctor to the gallows.
Hale pleads with Elizabeth to talk to John once more, but she declines, preferring instead to let her husband take the course of action he has chosen: to die with his dignity, his good name and his own, personal truth intact.