Tales from the dark side

10th October 2003 at 01:00

Arthur Miller's The Crucible still holds a mirror to society's values and ills, as Timothy Ramsden reports

Director Terry Hands says that passionate politics mark out Miller's drama of witch-hunts in 17th-century Massachusetts. In its day the play echoed the McCarthyite witch-hunt of Communists in the US. More recently, Hands points to parallels with child-abuse allegations and the rise of new tyrannies based on religious fundamentalism.

Hands speaks of the Massachusetts theocracy - the religious hierarchy in the play that gave rise to the witch-hunting - as focused on the Old Testament. For some, like Rev Parris (Simon Armstrong) or Thomas Putnam (Dyfed Thomas), there's also a venal motive of gain. For others, such as judge Hawthorne (Ifan Huw Dafydd) and deputy governor Danforth (Malcolm Storry) the motive is a major theme in the play - holding on to power. The self-saving lies by local children can be manipulated for these darker adult purposes . "The more you look at it, the more (the children's) hysteria is used in a fraudulent way. It's not the children who are important but the use they're put to," declares Hands "Danforth", he says, "clings to power. He has little to commend him in the play." Or in history - it was a bench of Dutch judges who eventually threw out the children and their witchcraft lies.

Against this is humanity. Elizabeth Proctor (Susanna Parry) lies to save her husband (though she thereby condemns him) for human reasons. Hands places importance on her husband's occupation. John Proctor (Julian Lewis-Jones) "is a typical farmer: independent. He's the New Man, one of the first. He wants his own name, not to be an ant in the pile. He has integrity, morality, simplicity. But his adultery with his teenage accuser Abigail Williams (Louise Collins) hangs over him like a massive black stain on his sense of himself as a person." He is in a community of people who are "just learning to articulate problems" of their place in society. No wonder Proctor falls as "Danforth sets trap after trap for a basically simple person". Outside these groups is Rev Hale (Steffan Rhodri), "finally realising there has to be a new way. He's crushed in act three; the state is too powerful. But he has perceived it's wrong." He lives to argue another day, making the play hopeful: theocracy will crumble. For a time.

Hands notes Miller's view that when The Crucible is a hit, it normally signifies there's a tyranny just past - or on the way.

Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru. October 9-November 1.

Talkbacks October 23, 30 Tickets tel: 0845 330 3565

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