Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible at The Playhouse Theatre as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival is without doubt one dance event of 2019 not to miss; if you get the opportunity see it on its all too short a performance run from 3rd to 5th August. This is also the World Premiere of this work as a complete full length ballet.
The Crucible is of course based on the famous play by Arthur Miller about the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693 and, although anyone who has seen the play, or read its text will know that Arthur Miller used the transcripts from the Salem trials as a template to warn against modern “Witch Hunts” such as the Communist Trials in America at the time of his writing, I was curious how this concept would transfer to a ballet. The answer to that puzzle is this “Crucible” works just as well as it does as a stage play and you do not actually need to be aware of the oveThe very translation from stage drama to ballet always meant that there was going to be some difference here, but inspired choreography by Helen Pickett has allowed us to not only stay true to Miller’s original work, but perhaps get even closer to those original Salem trial transcripts with the creation of an expanded role for one charachters r-tones at all, you can simply take this story as presented without any loss of context. If you are aware of what Arthur Miller was warning about, that creation of events that see friend accuse friend to save their own self, or settle vendettas, perhaps as in Salem gain financially in money and land from your “witness”, then that adds another dimension to the work too.
The very translation from stage drama to ballet always meant that there was going to be some difference here, but inspired choreography by Helen Pickett has allowed us to not only stay true to Miller’s original work, but perhaps get even closer to those original Salem trial transcripts with the creation of an expanded role for one charachter in Miller’s story. This person was a black slave woman, and the performance of Tituba (performed by Cira Robinson) highlights just how easily anyone who is perceived as different from others so quickly gets selected for blame and punishment when social events take a turn for the worse in any society.
Everything in “The Crucible” revolves around the initial statements of young girls who with hindsight probably were very clever in their deceit to hide their own actions, but things swiftly spun out of their control. Playing the pivotal role of Abigail, Constance Devernay gives us a young woman who in the wonderfully expressive language of dance moves from tender moments of forbidden love and passions to a revengeful and scheming manipulator of everyone around her, and the change in body language used to do this by Constance is a pleasure to watch.
There are simply too many “classic” performances here to mention everyone, but Araminta Wraith (Elisabeth Proctor), Nicholas Shoesmith (John Proctor) and Thomas Edwards (Reverend Parris) have to be mentioned here. Christopher Harrison also gives a powerful and at times chilling portrayal of acting governor Thomas Danforth.
With the format of the story, this was always going to be a very dramatic work from Scottish Ballet, and it is perhaps closer to dramatic theatre than anything I have seen from the company in a few years (their re-working of that other American classic “A Streetcar named Desire” does come to mind though), and the use of song and music (Peter Salem) and audio sounds from the trials works so well here to create the atmosphere we need to make this story work. The combination of classic ballet and modern dance movements might leave purists of either style debating which is better here, or which format they would have preferred but, honestly, for me it is a moot point as it is the telling of the story in body movement that is important here and Helen Pickett has used the full range of “dance language” available to her to somehow let the expressive movements of the dancers speak out on stage as loudly as any spoken words can ever do.
There is also great thought given here to the set and costume design (Emma Kingsbury) with a very interesting and very nice, clean Scandinavian modernist look to our bright and light set in Act 1 that takes on a completely different colour tone and air of menace and despair in Act 2. Lighting design (David Finn), and the movement of shadow and the playing of light are very important here and used to great effect in scenes like the young girls’ “shadow play” and their “nude” dancing in the woods scene.
Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible has all the hall-marks of becoming a performance work that will be with us for a very long time to come and hopefully many more people outside of this year’s Festival will get a chance to see it at some time in the future.
As a footnote here it is perhaps worth noting that if you go to the esplanade on Edinburgh Castle there is a small well on a wall that marks tribute to over 300 people (mostly women) who were tried and found guilty of witchcraft and put to death in Edinburgh. Also the last time any Scottish woman was convicted of witchcraft under a centuries old law that was never repealed was Helen Duncan in 1944. The witch trials of Salem were not just an isolated incident happening half a world away, but very close to us all here in Edinburgh, and this The Crucible simply reminds us that intolerance and injustice is alive in every place in every time.
Scottish Ballet The Crucible
Scottish Ballet / Helen Pickett / Peter Salem
Review by Tom King