The Crucible, West Yorkshire Playhouse ****
Theatre is not mathematics. There is no right and wrong. Which means in the future, James Brining may make a false step on the beast of a mainstage in the theatre of which he has charge. It’s hard to see how he will do so, given that he appears to have learnt exactly what the unwieldy space needs to be activated properly.
In The Crucible, following Sweeney Todd and Enjoy, he demonstrates complete mastery of the space once again. Almost all the performances on show here match the epic nature of the staging. Martin Marquez as John Proctor is the solid base around which all others are built. Arthur Miller’s play, one of the most important of the last century, centres on the true story of the Salem witch trials used by Miller as an analogy for the McCarthy trials. Brining’s anachronistic production is set in Miller’s imagined world of 1690s Salem, yet displays artefacts from Miller’s actual world of 1950s America. The jarring effect of period costume sitting on plastic chairs shakes the script at this 2014 audience and reminds us that sometimes the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.
This vital and coruscating production, a few technical issues aside (there were complaints that some of the voices difficult to hear), is intensely powerful.
• To October 25.
Regeneration, Bradford Alhambra ****
The importance of the First World War has been reiterated many times in this, the centenary year since so many millions were sent to their pointless deaths.
One of the ways to comprehend the horror of such futility is through art – and in the case of the First World War, often it is the poets who provide the prism through which we see the awfulness. In Regeneration, the adaptation of Pat Barker’s 1991 novel, we learn about three of the Great War’s great poets, Rupert Graves, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Specifically we learn about the relationship that developed between Owen and Sassoon when they found themselves at the psychiatric hospital at Craiglockhart. It is a relationship of a father and son figure, or a teacher and student. Nicholas Wright’s script hints also that there was more between them.
We see the relationship blossom and Owen find his voice as a poet under the tutelage of Sassoon. There are hints that the relationship is similar to that of Salieri and Mozart, but this is a relationship of love that isn’t soured by jealousy.
This production, from English Touring Theatre, is efficient without ever exploding into brilliance. It feels a little weighted down by the importance of its message, which doesn’t quite nail its feet to the floor, but doesn’t ever quite allow the production to fly.
• To October 11.