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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 August, 2003, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Playwright Miller hears Crucible echo
The Crucible
The Crucible has been performed all over the world
Playwright Arthur Miller has said he believes his play The Crucible is as relevant today as it was on its release 50 years ago.

Though The Crucible told the story of the Salem witch trials of 1692, the subtext was a comment on the McCarthy anti-Communism trials of the 1950s.

Miller told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme he felt there were echoes of the House Committee on Un-American Activities' investigations - founded on fear of the USSR - in many of the policies of the current Bush administration.

"This threat from abroad is a very useful way of holding onto power," Miller said. "We've got it now with Bush and Iraqis."

'Play will always work'

Others in the US have pointed to what they see as parallels with Miller's play after George W Bush's comments after 11 September that people were either "with us or with the terrorists".

Prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Some see parallels between the accused in The Crucible and prisoners at Guantanamo Bay

Some also see parallels between the detention without trial of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and the accusations of consorting with Satan that led to the executions in Miller's play.

"It was deeply, deeply frightening [in the 50s], and it's frightening now," Sarah Paretsky, a novelist and analysis of the McCarthy hearings, told Masterpiece.

Ms Paretsky said some Americans felt afraid to speak out, despite questions of human rights abuses at the camp being raised by Amnesty International and other groups.

"People get frightened. It is why something like The Crucible will always work - it will be brought back in that kind of context."

Miller himself commented that he was reminded of how the play was received in 1953.

"They would say to me, 'this is all fraudulent - there never were any witches, but there are Communists'," he said.

Arthur Miller
The Crucible probably and unfortunately is not going to be overwhelmed with irrelevance too soon
Arthur Miller
"I could only say that in 1692, if you had stood on the main street of Salem, Massachusetts, and said 'there are no witches', I wouldn't want to be your insurance man."

Camouflaged in history

Though Miller had won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for his play Death Of A Salesman, critics and audiences were wary - even nervous - of The Crucible when it opened in New York.

"The country was at the height of its fears of an imminent Communist invasion, and some of the absurdities of that era were already showing themselves - people were being fired out of jobs in libraries, schools, Hollywood, everywhere - on suspicion of having sympathies with the Soviet Union," Miller recalled.

Senator Joe McCarthy
The Crucible was written in response to the McCarthy hearings
"The wave of fear was palpable and I myself was scared, because it seemed to me that we were being manipulated.

"It was a tawdry time, it was a rotten time to be alive, and I tried through this play to throw some light on it," he said.

Certainly, even in America - with its constitutional commitment to free speech - Miller had to be careful, which was the reason for setting the play at the birth of the country.

"He had to select a historical period so he could get away with the play, because it would never have been put on had Miller written it as of the time and as of the McCarthy period which he was writing about," Branch Marvin, a theatre producer who saw the original Crucible on Broadway, told Masterpiece.

"He had to camouflage it, and he camouflaged it with history."

During its initial run The Crucible often reduced audiences to nervous silence as, midway through, they worked out Miller's point and wondered how to react.

Longterm success

Eventually, three years after The Crucible's first performance, Miller was himself summoned before the House Committee, although interest in their work had declined somewhat.

Arthur Miller with Marilyn Monroe
Miller believes he was only summoned because the Committee wanted to meet Marilyn Monroe
"I'm convinced that they called me at that time because I was about to marry Marilyn Monroe, and they figured they'd get back on the front page," Miller said.

"In fact the chairman of the committee offered to call off the hearing altogether a day before I was to appear if he could have his picture taken with Marilyn.

"Of course we didn't do it, and the next day I was promptly described as an enemy of the country."

But such an accusation seemingly had little long-term impact on The Crucible's success.

"I feel very attached to the play - it's something that probably and unfortunately is not going to be overwhelmed with irrelevance too soon," ended Miller.

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