Oxford Theatre Guild returns to the Oxford Playhouse with a classic of the stage, The Crucible, by one of the twentieth century’s greatest dramatists Arthur Miller. Tense, thrilling and terrifying in turns, this play is still a powerful reflection of the society we live in and our capacity for blind prejudice. This Guild production at the Oxford Playhouse follows on from its critically acclaimed autumn production of Wit at the North Wall and tickets are selling fast.

The Crucible is set in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, in the Puritan settlement of Salem and uses as its backdrop the witch trails that took place there in 1692 and 1693. Miller wrote the play in 1952 after a fellow writer was accused of being a communist and called before a Congress committee to give evidence against others, which he duly did to prevent further sanctions on his own career. Using the historical backdrop of the Salem story Miller created in The Crucible an allegory of the turmoil in America during the 1950s caused by the anti-communist crusade of the time and the devastation it brought to individuals and their families – loss of jobs, passports, exile, imprisonment, and even the death penalty.

Substitute ‘terrorism’ for ‘communism’ and The Crucible becomes an allegory for our own times when personal prejudice, ambition, and ill-informed opinion can quickly escalate into wrongful arrest, detention, torture and war.

In the play a group of village girls are caught dancing in the woods and accused of witchcraft when one of them falls dangerously ill. The girls then accuse adults in the village of practising witchcraft, some to save their own skins, others in malice. Old feuds and personal enmities are quickly rekindled, fuelled by greed and self-advancement. John and Elizabeth Proctor, a local farming family, are at the centre of the accusations but John is compromised in defending himself because of a previous affair with one of the young women. The case of witchcraft is formally investigated and soon a trial date is set. John and Elizabeth have to decide between telling the truth, protecting their family and standing up for what is right.

The Crucible, with its plot twists, reversals of fortune and conflicted characters, is a feverishly exciting moral thriller that pits personal responsibility against public good.  When the girls try to save themselves by denouncing neighbours as witches, they start an appalling chain of events that gather in momentum in ways they could never have imagined. As the hysteria mounts, the net closes, ensnaring the innocent. The more the truth is told, the blacker things become as the play hurtles compellingly towards its terrifying conclusion.

When asked why she wanted to take on this play, director Sue Baxter says “The Crucible is one of the great plays of the twentieth century. It has a power to move and to challenge an audience, examining a matter of conscience – whether to stand up for what is right or be cowardly and self-serving. OTG are in the happy position of performing in a venue and with a company of actors that can do this great play justice and I am pleased to be working with them again.”

Since the play was first performed in 1953, critics have heaped praise on it, and it is now a staple of secondary school syllabuses in the UK. This production has proved popular at the box office already and tickets are selling fast, particularly for the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday performances.

Michelle Dickson, Theatre Director of the Playhouse, welcomes OTG back to the theatre: “OTG is has created a deserved reputation for their Playhouse productions and The Crucible is a great addition to our season.”

Photography by Felicity Peacock