Monday, 25 August 2014
THEATRE - THE CRUCIBLE
The Crucible by Arthur Miller was actually one of the plays I studied in high school and although I haven't revisited it since, I remember it being a text that I really got into and enjoyed. So when the regular newsletter from The Old Vic theatre appeared in my inbox with their new season, a brand new production of The Crucible with Richard Armitage (most recently seen in The Hobbit) taking on the lead role, my interest was piqued. I barely remembered anything of the story except that it's centred around the Salem witch trials in the late 1600s and I had never seen the play acted out on stage before so it was going to be something completely new for me. Sometimes it's better experiencing things this way though, without any prior knowledge or opinions to cloud your judgement at the time. I had watched a play in The Old Vic before and it wasn't that long ago so I was surprised to find the traditional theatre interior and front stage set up that I remembered had been changed to a round auditorium like space, with a simple unelevated floor in the very centre serving as the new stage and seats surrounding it in a gradual escalation, much like an arena, albeit perfectly circular. I had been in a similar setting to this watching Macbeth in Trafalgar Transformed a few years ago, and something I very much like about it is that without an elevated stage it almost feels like there are no barriers between the audience and the actors and play space, making the experience even more immersive.
When we took our seats (in the very first row), the atmosphere was already eerie, with dim lighting and fog continuously flowing in from all directions behind the audience. The play started abruptly and from the very first second we were thrown into the drama of this supernatural situation that had disrupted this village in Salem. I found that I was either on the edge of my seat, caught up in the action unravelling and the intense performances, or recoiled in fear or shock at the sudden plot twists and looming sense of ominousity. Richard commands the stage well as John Proctor, and does a great job at bringing us along with him on his emotional journey. The hysteria that threatens to overtake him and the audience is brought about by Abigail Hobbs and Mary Warren, two young girls at the centre of the conflict who've been accused of practicing witchcraft, with equally outstanding acting by Samantha Colley and Natalie Gavin. The rest of the implicated 'witches' were also impressive in portraying all manner of supernatural behaviour such as exorcisms without the help of any special effects while Anna Madeley, as Proctor's wife Elizabeth, delivers some absolutely heart-wrenching scenes. In fact the entire supporting cast display some really strong acting chops, and every line, even the tiniest actions contribute a whole lot to the story.
I thought this rendition of The Crucible to be very simple and honest piece of theatre, executed very effectively by a brilliant cast and superb use of the stage. I cannot pinpoint what exactly made it so hypnotising, though I presume alongside the wonderful acting, elements such as the sweeping, unearthly music and the close proximity of the round stage had a lot to do with it. Even my sense of smell was engaged at that distance when there was food on the stage, and there was a part when a crumpled piece of paper thrown by Armitage actually hit me. It's one of the more intense and unsettling plays I've seen, definitely not for the more faint-hearted as those already familiar with the story may know. Even though the story was set in the past (it's also not completely fictionalised), it still raises some interesting questions and parallels with contemporary society. The issue of morality is a running occurrence and of course McCarthyism is basically the whole idea behind it. What is deemed 'fair' and what defines true justice? These thoughts will stay with you long after the production ends, almost as if you were actually bewitched and needed to be shaken from the reverie.
The Crucible is running until the 13th of September at the Old Vic and you can find tickets here.
Are you familiar with this play? If so what are your thoughts on it and if not, what was the last play you saw?
Images 1, 2, 4, and 5 are official images, all others are my own.