This article first appeared in the Edinburgh International Festival Programme by journalist and novelist Lyn Gardner.
On a drizzly day in early April 1952, playwright Arthur Miller drove to the Connecticut home of stage and film director Elia Kazan. Kazan had directed Miller’s Broadway hit, Death of a Salesman, and Miller viewed him not just as a friend but like a brother.
On a walk in the woods Kazan confessed to Miller that he had recently testified before the House of Un-American Activities which was intent on rooting out those in public life who might have or had communist sympathies. Kazan had named names, a betrayal that would haunt him for the rest of his life. When the two men parted they would not speak again for a decade.
When Miller got back into his car he drove to Salem, the small Massachusetts’ village which in 1692 saw neighbour turn on neighbour and friends and family members testify against each other as the community became gripped by a hysteria that the devil was living in their midst. Rumours of bewitchment had spread through the community after two girls suffered fits.
Fuelled by superstition, fear and a desire by some to save their own skins by pointing the finger at others, an apparently stable community collapsed into chaos. By the time the witch-hunt subsided two years later 14 women, five men and two dogs had been executed for witchcraft.
In the Salem courthouse Miller read the transcripts of the Salem trials which he drew on to write The Crucible, the 1953 drama which went on to become his most performed play.
The Crucible might have been intended as an allegory that pointed the finger at ant-communist witch-hunts in mid-20th century America, but it was also a play for all time. As Miller himself remarked after seeing many productions around the world, it served ‘as either a warning of tyranny on the way or a reminder of tyranny just past.’
Transposing Miller’s wordy drama into a ballet might seem like quite a challenge, but Scottish Ballet — which is celebrating its 50th anniversary — has never been short on bravery. It has already successfully transposed that other great classic of American drama — A Streetcar Named Desire — into dance.
This world premiere of The Crucible is the first time that the play has been reimagined as a full-length ballet. It serves as a reminder that what keeps great classics alive is not admiring them out of duty but reinventing them in many forms so that they speak as directly to us as they did when first produced.