Just as fake news today spreads like wildfire across social media and can destroy a reputation or lead to pillary and isolation, so the lies told by those young girls were fed rapidly through the whole community with tragic consequences.
A witch hunt is launched, literally, as the townsfolk try to find something or someone to blame for a mystery illness which has afflicted two children. A mob mentality develops as the ‘witches’ are identified and a paranoid fear grows as fingers are pointed at anyone who does not support the campaign of fear.
And as the clergy and then the town jump quickly to the wrong conclusions and hysteria follows, their flock hear only what they want to hear as dozens of women are taken away – because to admit otherwise would be to accept a terrible injustice.
The Arthur Miller classic is a dark and heavy read. It is a dramatized story based on the Salem witch trials which took place in Massachusetts in 1692/93. Miller wrote the play in response to McCarthyism and the ostracising by the US government of Communists.
In The Crucible, the fragmented community, led by a Puritan regime, begins a damned route to self-destruction when a group of young girls are caught dancing in woodland.
An initial lie to hide their true activities leads to a web of deceit and then becomes a sinister and malicious campaign of revenge and retribution. Innocent and decent women are identified as witches by the power-hungry children and forced to confess or be hanged.
At the heart of the story are farmer John Proctor, played by Eoin Slattery, who is filled with self recrimination after a dalliance with servant Abigail Williams, and his desperately honest and decent wife Elizabeth, played by Victoria Yeates, best known for her role in Call the Midwife.
The indignant and wounded Abigail, played by Lucy Keirl (corr), wreaks her revenge upon the family for being thrown out and later rejected by John by accusing Elizabeth of witchcraft. Keirl gives a sinister and convincing performance as the detestable Abigail.
Slattery is incredibly strong as the guilt-ridden farmer who displays the valour, determination, Christianity and loyalty he claims not to have.
Playing Reverend Hale, the clergyman who naively sets the witch hunt in motion, is played by Charlie Condou who became a household name as Marcus Dent in Coronation Street. In the first half the character comes across as weak and a little lacklustre as he seems to lack conviction or emotion.
But he comes into his own after the interval as a tortured soul desperately trying to save those he led to their fate and redeem himself.
The set in this production is simple, dark and eerie reflecting the subject and the era well. There seemed, however, some issues with sound as characters were not always clear and often too echoey.
A classic tale which has stood the test of time and will resonate with audiences today as much as it did 60 years ago.
Runs at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday.