The Crucible (5 stars)

This article is from 2019

The Crucible

credit: Andy Ross

Creepy, sensual and arresting, Scottish Ballet's The Crucible is storytelling ballet at its best

It's fair to say that Scottish Ballet has form when translating tricky texts into dance. Its version of A Streetcar Named Desire a few years ago was blistering, and lit up the text in a new, red-raw light. And it's this that Helen Pickett's The Crucible, premiering at Edinburgh International Festival, is most reminiscent of. The question of why bother transposing Miller's iconic text into a mute form quickly evaporates as the dance seizes hold of the physicality of lust, dogma and mass hysteria.

Emma Kingsbury has created a world that is discomfiting and forbidding, where the giant eyes of a huge window dominate the stage, its panes separated by a void that looks like a cross. Prayer in this community is expressed through military drills, though they are interrupted by tableaux of violent, simmering passions. Meanwhile, in a forest late at night, the Salem girls manipulate creepy dolls houses and raggedy shadow puppets, their feet teetering en pointe, thrilling with the terror and excitement of all that is forbidden.

Miller's story – of Abigail's affair with her employer John Proctor (powerfully danced by Nicolas Shoesmith), which becomes entangled in mass accusations of witchcraft – unfolds with clarity, mixing in just enough descriptive movement to let us understand what's going on. But it's when the repressed surfaces of the central characters are scratched that the real heart of the piece pours out.

There is no hiding a character's soul in dance – everything is laid bare. And this is most apparent in the role of Elizabeth Proctor. Aloof and proper, almost chilly in Miller's text, here she is a fully fleshed woman whose upright dignity softens as the piece progresses, mapped in a series of duets with her husband that swell in their intimacy, trust and mature passion.

She is danced marvellously by Araminta Wraith, counterpoint to Constance Devernay's tough, vindictive Abigail. Cira Robinson too, is a virtuoso Tituba, graceful, precise and elegant, not pandering to the exoticism of Miller's only black role in the play.

Peter Salem's original score shivers menacingly and unsettles with unpredictable rhythms. It's a production that reminds us that beneath all the flying verbal accusations of the text lie breathing, pulsing humans.

Edinburgh Playhouse, until 5 Aug, 7.30pm, £15--£35.

Scottish Ballet: The Crucible

  • 5 stars

The Scottish Ballet adapt Arthur Miller's thinly-veiled critique of McCarthyism, under the guise of the Salem Witch Trials, to life on stage, with a score by Peter Salem.