(Nick Ahad’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/10/2024. Magnetic … Anoushka Lucas and Simon Manyonda in The Crucible at Crucible, Sheffield.  Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)

Crucible, Sheffield
Director Anthony Lau brings his fiercely rigorous intellect to bear on this intensely felt love story, with standout performances from Simon Manyonda and Anoushka Lucas

There is a particular quality to the silence that descends on the Crucible theatre when all dramatic elements in that unique space are operating at their most taut.

Whether it’s O’Sullivan bending to the baize to sink a black for another 147, or a more deliberately created drama, there is a heaviness to the silence that can envelop the place, a silence the audience are complicit in creating, as they hold a collective breath.

Rarely have I felt such a heavy stillness or such an intense concentration, than that which the audience brought to Anthony Lau’s take on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

As associate artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, Lau has brought a fiercely rigorous intellect to his productions on this stage. From a psychedelic Anna Karenina, to a playful The Good Person of Szechwan, he refuses to patronise his audience, demanding we work to understand his purpose, evidenced again here with Miller’s 1953 American classic.

The play opens with the stage populated by microphones and the auditorium fully lit for a significant portion of the opening scene. There is a lightbox hanging above the stage giving us a moment of pause – we’re inside the theatre, but the display with the word “Crucible” looks the same as the one outside. Lau appears to be asking us to consider that we’re not just in the Crucible (theatre), but we are also in The Crucible (play). We are complicit in the action.

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