Helen Pickett's harrowing and crushing dance version of Arthur Miller’s classic, Maggie Kelly reviews the world premiere of The Crucible by Scottish Ballet at Edinburgh International Festival:

Streaks of light divide the stage, cutting into the empty, hazy space of the Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible interpretation. Helen Pickett’s production is one of dark boundaries, of monstrous, warped shadows on paper and frenzied rushes of movement. Based on Arthur Miller’s classic, it does a spine-tingling job of recreating a raw, ferocious, mob mentality atmosphere that hurtles the audience through a familiar narrative at breakneck speed.

Crucible Edinburgh Playhouse
Grace Horler (image courtesy of Andy Ross)

Peter Salem’s composition crouches somewhere between score and noise, twisting around the sound design in a collaboration that makes it hard to distinguish between melodic and corporeal. Pickett’s choreography similarly slams ethereal grace next to a raw, animalistic pack mentality (‘the girls’ go witch hunting en pointe).

Stylish, yes.

Dramatic, definitely.

But the pure driving force of plot point after plot point misses out on a layer of character nuance, casting in monochrome what Miller’s play painted with a rather more sensitive brush.

Crucible Edinburgh Playhouse
Christopher Harrison (image courtesy of Andy Ross)

Pickett’s interpretation pushes the drama, the atmosphere, the sharp boundaries between light and dark, but her staging gives John Proctor (Nicolas Shoesmith) and Elizabeth Proctor (Araminta Wraith) a tight corner to play in. The couple have very few defining characteristics outside of and incidental existence, victims of the narratively richer ‘mob’. In their duets, they explode with life, especially when Elizabeth confronts John about his affair with Abigail (Constance Devernay). Wraith teases the audience with a hypnotic fluidity of movement before ripping away from anexpected ending and tearing her chest apart at Proctor’s feet. But outside of this, the conflicts of their characters, the complexity of human motivation, are lost.

As the manipulative serving girl Abigail, Devernay is a wonderfully cold presence, a razor-sharp focus on making John Proctor pay for refusing her advances.

Crucible Edinburgh Playhouse
Jamiel Laurence (image courtesy of Andy Ross)

David Finn’s lighting design focusses around the interactions between light and dark, pinning spinning bodies against Emma Kingsbury’s gloriously oppressive window-set as monstrous figures collide and warp the perspective of the humans beneath. These nightmarish figures dissociate from the dancers themselves and take on a new, individual energy, mirroring the whispers and rumours circulating through the play.

It is these warped tales, these shadows, these suspicions that crawl into people’s minds and lock fast to form the basis of The Crucible narrative. And this power of stories – growing and morphing until they tower over those that engender them – that Pickett’s production glories in.

Crucible Edinburgh Playhouse
Image courtesy of Andy Ross

The Crucible is hauntingly relevant to the fear-mongering and scapegoating present within current society. And while Pickett’s vision misses a little of the satisfying crunch that Miller specialises in, the echoing howls of movements and raw, bleeding emotion driving the audience through the piece make this an interpretation that easily holds its own (and in some places outstrips) the well-worn original.

★★★★☆

The Crucible is now playing at Edinburgh International Festival until 5 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.