The first area to assess is the use of setting and scenery concerning this production of the play. The set of the play produces a very surreal and segregated atmosphere that appears to be very striking and unsettling for the audience. This was achieved in the opening scene primarily through the use of floorboards placed on a ploughed field, as Anna Mackmin, the Director stated “We wanted a space that was iconic… we needed to take into account the idea that this is a tiny world in the midst of a wilderness… so we have put wooden planks into a ploughed field.”. Since the floorboards always seemed somewhat out of place compared to the soil around it, it created a sense of unnaturalness being imposed upon this previously unblemished world; much like the “pious, devout settlement at the edge of a white civilization” that Arthur Miller himself had described in an interview.
While he was writing the play, one of Arthur Miller’s key purposes was to produce a piece of writing that would articulate and expose the foolish and twisted ways of McCarthyism. “I was in opposition to McCarthyism… the playwriting part of me was drawn to what I felt was a tragic process of underlying the political manifestation”. This was achieved by emphasizing how hysterical and absurd this fantasy world that he created was: “Husbands and wives turned into stony enemies, loving parents into indifferent supervisors”. Then, once he had shown the audience that this place was unconventional, he changed his portrayal of this primitive world into a metaphor of the current world, i.e. its resemblance to McCarthyism (current world being 1953 when the play was first produced).
Thus from this perspective, he managed to create an argument showing that all this obscurity and madness was not so different from what was currently going on after all. “What I sought was a metaphor, an image that would spring out of the heart, all-inclusive, full of light… For if the current degeneration of discourse continued, we could no longer be a democracy, a system that requires a certain basic trust in order to exist.” This intention of Arthur Miller’s was superbly expressed through the settings in Anna Mackmin’s production of the play.
The auditorium was surrounding the stage, which was slightly raised from the front row. This almost created a barrier that seemed to make me feel like I was on the outside and looking in from an alternate viewpoint “We wanted to try to give a feeling of nature surround this small, controlled and very contained world.”. As an outsider, I felt as if I was able to perceive and see through the mass hysteria that those on stage were unable to.
Considering Arthur Miller’s personification of this play to McCarthyism, I seemed to have been the one who had taken upon his role, as if I was seeing through his eyes; through the cunning and deceptive tricks that were being pulled by the villains on stage. I am unaware as to whether or not this effect was intended but nevertheless it left a very strong impression on me, especially during the latter scenes of the production.
As the play progressed, the scenery always seemed to get much brighter and widespread. This thoroughly highlighted the idea of “people imposing their will on nature”. As time passed, the characters on stage were starting to have a more significant effect on what was surrounding them. For example, during the opening scene, the majority of the acting occurred on a raised platform which resembled the upstairs of Reverend Parris’ home.
The lighting was used in a manner that made the atmosphere seem somewhat dark and sombre. The soil of the ploughed field beneath the platform was of an even darker colour and this created an effect that made Parris’ house look like it was confined by the wilderness that framed it. By Act Four, the scene had transformed considerably; the whole stage was lit up with an unnatural whiteness and the stage itself consisted of a large white wooden floorboard that covered the entire area.
Another powerful object used in the set from the start was the crooked pulpit that was attached to the wall upstage towards the left. As discreet as this object appeared to be at the beginning, it may have carried a symbolic message. This crooked pulpit was an illustration of the distorted religion and mentality that lay within this segregated town of Salem. “I have come five mile to hear him preach only hellfire and bloody damnation…
There are many others who stay away from church these days because you hardly mention God anymore.” – Proctor (p23). This shows that even a covenanted Christian minister like Parris is inadequate in his job; he is merely hiding behind his religion in order to save his name in the town. “Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small” – Hale (p55) This is an unusual statement to make considering the current state of the church and the minister who runs it. Furthermore, it shows that religion is used in the wrong way in this peculiar world. Both of these quotations are emphasising the state of the town’s religion and beliefs and are essences of what the crooked pulpit resembled.
The next area to be assessed is the use of costume and outfit of the characters in the play. The most effective use of costume in my view was the way that Danforth and a few of the other court officials were dressed. The black suit that he wore was a fine resemblance of his evil, malevolent and vindictive character “Hang them high over the town! Who weeps for these weeps for corruption!” (p116).
His dim costume also strikes an intense contrast with the unnaturally white and illuminated courtroom. This itself also articulated a strong metaphor concerning Danforth’s unsophisticated and one-dimensional methods of drawing lines and divides when it came to friends and foes (in other words his dim personality). “You must understand that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road in between.” (p76).