THE wave of mass hysteria that engulfs a tight knit farming community in The Crucible is so disturbing it makes your stomach turn over.

Largely God fearing, good people have their lives destroyed by blinkered and ruthless figures of authority.

Stop the play and let them get off. But this is Salem and rationality has no place in a town which has supposedly fallen under the spell of witchcraft.

The power of this Arthur Miller classic remains undiminished and this latest production, at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, is totally unmissable.

A strong cast is expertly led by Jonjo O'Neill as John Proctor, a seething cauldron of emotion, a dissenting voice in an irrational world. The chemistry between him and his spouse Elizabeth, an outstanding Matti Houghton, is so believable you'll forget you're watching actors, two highly accomplished ones at that. The scene in which they express their devotion, in the depths of despair, are moving to the point of being heartbreaking to watch.

Tim Steed is very good value as the Reverend John Hale and Peter Guinness is genuinely scary as Danforth, the deputy governor obsessed with enforcing the law, whatever the human cost.

For a production to hold your attention for three hours it has to be something special and Caroline Steinbeis' production ensures your eyes remain glued to the stage. That said, Miller's dialogue flows brilliantly and several lines are so inspired there was a palpable gasp from the man sitting next to me. Genius is a word that's scandalously over used, but this American giant of the theatre is, without a doubt, one of the true greats. I would have killed for THAT interview, when he was alive.

* Until October 24. Tickets are available from 0161 833 9833. Star rating - *****