A damp and dingy Saturday afternoon saw us at the Maddermarket Theatre for an am-dram matinee courtesy of the Norwich Players. We were Maddermarket virgins and I fancied a peek at the converted Catholic chapel. A striking Sixties’ add-on foyer looked better on the outside and led us to the interior of the church, reconfigured as an Elizabethan playhouse. We took our pews for The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s loud and densely scripted account of the Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts at the end of the Seventeenth Century. I looked around the audience. Many of them could well have sailed on the Mayflower. By now, we’re used to mingling with the grey herd at Norwich’s cultural events, but the care homes of Norfolk must have been deserted that afternoon. When the over-generous use of dry ice to create the misty ambience of a midnight glade threatened to gas the first four rows, I feared some of the punters might not make it back to the coach.
Miller’s now iconic play is a story of rampant fundamentalism, ignorance and the abuse of power. Mass hysteria is whipped up to impose religious orthodoxy and settle old scores. Miller wrote the piece as an allegory of Fifties’ McCarthyism when the U.S. government hounded and blacklisted alleged communists (and socialists and liberals and anyone else who didn’t tow the party line). Sound familiar? Just take a look around the world. The play’s core message is just as relevant today as it was then. The talented thespians did well to deliver the difficult drama with conviction leaving us with the real sense of a menacing world gone completely bonkers. Sadly, the message was all lost on a few. As we queued to leave the auditorium at the end of the performance, an old Norfolk broad turned to her companion and announced:
“Didn’t understand a word of it. Not a word. Marvelous, wasn’t it?’