Teenage terrors

9th January 2004 at 00:00

The Crucible By Arthur Miller Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Miller asks the great question: how are we to live our lives?"

says Anna Mackmin, director of The Crucible, Arthur Miller's drama about witchcraft allegations in 17th-century Massachusetts. The accusations are made by teenage girls and the play is also about "the moment when children start to be adults, cracking into the world, here in such an appalling way".

Yet, continues Mackmin, given "what a dark, strange adventure girls'

adolescence can be, Abigail (who leads the allegations) is at some level a heroine". In a society where women "almost don't exist, except in the shadow of the man they're married to", Abigail has only the power of sex as a weapon. "Why the hell shouldn't she seek revenge against her former employer, farmer John Proctor? He screwed her, then dumped her very unpleasantly. It's very easy to judge her with centuries of prejudice."

Proctor himself represents the individual's right to own his own life.

"He's passionately connected to the land he works, but not with the ideas of those who try to control that land, the Salem theocracy. This is a great play of crisis, of a theocracy coming to the point where it is failing to serve. When people can no longer talk they move towards blood."

Miller introduces Proctor cracking jokes, saying he'd like to join the faction Reverend Parris complains of as opposing him. Mackmin quotes Miller's comment that irony is the supreme gift of peace, the first thing that disappears when fear enters our lives. Yet the apparently unsympathetic Parris receives support from Mackmin: "Who'd do his job, in charge of marshalling ideas in a farming community where it is hard work in the fields which gains respect?" Parris is an outsider, though absolutely essential .

Miller's complex characterisation is exemplified in Giles Corey, the litigious farmer. He is humane, changing his mind and proud of it. He uses society's rules to his own advantage. He shows the dignity of love. Yet he is also stubborn, rude and arrogant.

Mackmin's Abigail is Sinead Matthews, straight from RADA. All Abigail's companions are cast as young-looking as possible, giving the visual shock that these are children. In contrast is Elizabeth Proctor, "a beautiful study of a woman living happily in her time", until trouble strikes.

Blaming herself for her husband's adultery, she is a truly good person. She provides the final image, showing everything must change: a pregnant woman, caught in a shaft of sunlight, containing the future within her.

February 4-28Tickets: 0114 249 6000Groups: 0114 249 6060 www.sheffieldtheatres.co.ukeducation

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