Working with a classic text like The Crucible places great demands on a school. It is a well known play and is a GCSE and IB examination text. There was a successful film adaptation recently with Daniel Day Lewis and Wynona Rider in the principal parts. Miller himself wrote the screenplay. The play is long and virtually relentless in its portrayal of what Miller calls one of the bleakest periods in human history...
When embarking on the production I wanted to remove the play from its comfortable niche as a classic study text and invite the audience to experience it afresh. This has involved some deliberate attempts to use what the German playwright Bertolt Brecht called Verfremdungseffekte, or alienation effects. The play makes use of modern technology and arena staging to make statements about the relationship between audience and actors, forcing, we hope, the audience to respond critically, as well as emotionally, to the events depicted. It is of course a text situated in, and mediated by, history: I have included some notes on the events surrounding the McCarthyite anti-communist witchunts of the HUAC in the 1940s and 1950s and the production makes use of authentic recordings and photographs. We should never forget that Miller himself was hauled before the committee after he had written The Crucible, a less than bizarre situation of life imitating art. Miller was sent down for contempt and only released after a successful protest on a technical issue.
The play, however, has little to do with history in the sense of the past. In fact it would be a mistake to think of the play as about McCarthyism alone. If anything it is about communities in crisis using groups or individuals as scapegots to release themselves from the responsibility for solving their own problems. The atmosphere of fear, bigotry and religious fervour in the play is not confined to a geographical or historical site but emerges whenever we are prepared to hand over our consciences to another. Miller himself has stated that he believes the central theme to be about the conflict between a mans raw deeds and his conception of himself; the question of whether conscience is in fact an organic part of the human being, and what happens when it is handed over not merely to the state or the mores of the time but to ones friend or wife.
We hope the production allows the audience to experience this theme, to be able to situate the play as a comment about history, yes, but about our own role in history too. Once again I have had the opportunity to work with a vast team of committed individuals and feel extremely privileged to be a part of that. This, it seems to me, is what schools are about and do best when the distinction between school and theatre blurs.