The Crucible (Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh)

John Dove directs Miller’s classic drama at the Lyceum

The cast of The Crucible
The cast of The Crucible

The Crucible was the first Miller play that I got to know as a teenager. Seeing (and reading) it back then, it seemed exciting, a little spooky, and full of issues – like truth and integrity – that you really should be concerned about as a young man. I have to confess, though, that coming back to it in the more cynical days of my late 30s, it doesn't half come across as preachy.

It's well known that the play is a critique of the McCarthyite anti-Communist trials that were happening in the US in the late 1940s, so Miller's personal experiences at the time of writing are inescapable; but some of the writing now strikes me as didactic and moralistic, especially all that interminable stuff about justice, goodness and Proctor's name. It's as though Miller was taking the issues underpinning the play and underlining them with bright red ink in a way that he avoided in his greatest work. Compared with the powerful ambiguity of, say, A View from the Bridge, The Crucible now seems too taken up with the importance of its moral message.

This therefore poses problems for anyone trying to stage it. But the Lyceum production handles many of those problems rather well. The costumes are squarely from 1692 Massachusetts, and the spare staging is open to the trees at the back, suggesting both the natural abundance of colonial New England and a fear hidden in the dark woods. John Dove, who has directed a series of Miller's plays at the Lyceum, controls the play's pacing well (with some apposite cuts). He taps into the excitement of the action in, for example, the breathless entries into the Proctors' house or the rough-and-tumble of the courtroom, though he cannot avoid some slightly naff hysteria from the girls.

It doesn't help that the acting is often pretty toneless. The only real standout is Meghan Tyler who gives an electric performance as Abigail, captivating to watch and to listen to as she comes to terms with the magnitude of what she has unleashed. You can see both why Proctor found her attractive and why she is able to hold the entire village captivated. Richard Conlon plays Hale with sincere optimism that crumbles as his world view falls apart, and Greg Powrie brings uncommon humanity to Parris. However, Philip Cairns' Proctor is monochrome and passionless, and Irene Allen plays Elizabeth with too much wide-eyed innocence. When Parris displays a wider range of emotions than Proctor then it is time to complain, not least because it's the vacuity of Proctor's journey that is this production's biggest problem. By the time of his hanging, I had begun to wish they'd just get on with it.

The Crucible runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until 19 March.