As promised have finally got round to writing my reviews for the productions I saw last week. I have decided to do them separately as they ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated. To be honest it has taken me this long to get over seeing them which might sound odd to some of you, but when I go into detail of one of them you might understand why!
Hope you enjoy and let me know if you would like to see more reviews in the future!
Lead Cast: Richard Armitage, Jack Ellis, Anna Madeley, Samantha Colley, Adrian Schiller
Running time: 3 hours 30 mins with one interval of 20 mins
Arthur Miller always wrote about subjects that were thought provoking and left you questioning either yourself or those around you and what you believe after reading his plays. I am familiar with some of his work having studied it at University but had not read The Crucible and knew little of it. Having enjoyed his plays ‘Death of A Salesman’ and ‘All My Sons’ , I knew as soon as this production was announced that I wanted to go and see it. In April of this year the casting of the actor Richard Armitage as the lead role of John Proctor was declared and as a fan of his work I promptly bought tickets before it was too late. I mentioned briefly on my ‘Day Out’ post that he is an actor that has been on my radar for some years – its actually 12 years and it was in a TV drama called ‘Sparkhouse’ which was loosely based on the novel Wuthering Heights. He played a nice but slightly dim farmhand and it was not a huge role but got him noticed and from then on he has popped up in many long running dramas including Spooks (or MI:5), Strike Back (Sky 1) and also played the gorgeous and brooding John Thornton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South back in 2004 which hailed him as the new ‘Mr Darcy’ and brought him legions of fans and his ‘Armitage Army’ fanbase. The new Hobbit films have propelled him into a different type of fame, not something he is overly comfortable with as he is a very private man, but none the less he now resides in New York and is making movies over there so looks like we might have lost him from our TV screens here in Blighty for the foreseeable future.
Anyway I digress, he was a huge pull for me to go and see it but I honestly would of seen it without him in it.
So cometh the hour on Wednesday 23rd July and I entered the Old Vic. I had a seat in the stalls at the back which was billed as being ‘restricted due to a slim pillar’. I had a similar seat last year so was not overly concerned. I entered the auditorium and have to say I felt completely disorientated! The transformation of the staging and seating to make it a production ‘in the round’ is breathtaking. I actually walked across the stage to get to my seat! The only way you could actually tell it was the stage was because there were chairs strewn across it and they were not for the audience. My seat was part of the new temporary structure which was basically where the stage normally is. To the left of me was an aisle which was used by the actors throughout the play to exit and enter so I got a good look at all the actors faces. The view was pretty good – I only paid £16 – and I had some restriction to my left as there was some staging which blocked the actors sometimes, but when something is staged like this you are going to get moments when you can’t see actors faces.
The play itself is based on the Salem witch trials of 1692 and the witch hunt that manifests from that. Although being hung for seeming to be a witch is something of the past, witch hunts can still be relevant today. We see it all the time in the media. Someone is accused of something and the media pounce on that person and their character is assassinated and they are vilified and torn to shreds in the papers, yet they have not been proved guilty of any crime. By the time they are proved to be innocent, if they are, their reputation is ruined and the articles are embedded in history forever. It has happened to a couple of British actors in recent months and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and keeping their names anonymous is not something the press over here seem to grasp. It is frightening how people when in fear turn on one another so easily and this is exactly what this play is trying to say.
The main character, John Proctor, has made a mistake and ends up paying for it with his life and those that are around him are also vilified. It is dark, tense, emotional and frightening and quite frankly took my breath away from the second it started.
The lights went down and the music kicked in, a thumping beat which sounded eerie. The actors starting coming in from the sides and sat in the chairs looking worn down and pensive. I held my breath as I felt the whole audience were doing the same in fear of breaking the silence. A woman was circling the stage with a slow beat in a trance which felt like an incantation and ended with her holding aloft a ‘crucible’ of burning herbs. Then it all kicked off. A gaggle of girls who are a huge part of the story were scary and silent and when they had their moments of being ‘possessed’ it was altogether frightening and distressing to watch. The character of Abigail Williams played so fantastically by Samantha Colley was a nasty, vindictive and manipulative girl and I can’t believe that it is the actresses professional stage debut, she held her own among acting heavyweights with such conviction and aplomb.
One of my favourite characters and performances was Adrian Schiller as the Reverend John Hale. His purpose of arriving in this forsaken place is to ‘out’ a spirit which has seemingly taken over a couple of the girls – just doing Gods work. By the end of the play he is a broken man and you feel that his character goes on a journey as much as everyone else. He may not have the tragic end as some but his life will never be the same again.
Another fantastic performance was given by the actor Jack Ellis who played Deputy Governor Danforth. Those of us in the UK would know him mostly for playing the nasty prison governor in the long-running TV series ‘Bad Girls’. I have also seen him in an adaptation of ‘A Few Good Men’ where he played the character made famous by Jack Nicholson. I was impressed with his stage acting then and this performance has convinced me even more that he is a fine and underrated actor. He only makes his entrance in the second half, but by God does he make an impact.
Finally and most importantly John Proctor. The presence of Richard Armitage is something which is undeniable and not just because he stands so high at over 6 foot tall. He is broad and wears a dark coat pulled up for the most part which makes him look even more imposing. He has a full beard and closely cropped hair and looks very different to what we might be used to.
Richards normal look
Richard as John Proctor
He commands the stage and his voice reverberates around the auditorium especially when he comes into his own by the end of the first act. In one review I read that he almost vibrates the floor with his voice. It is always risky whether someone you admire so much for their TV work is going to pack a punch on the stage. I have seen a few ‘celebrities‘ or ‘names’ in productions over the years and only really been disappointed with one. I know that a lot of actors (like me) feel their way into the industry doing stage work be it profit share, or fringe but only really make their name once they hit screen work where all work prior to that is forgotten. Richard has done stage work with the RSC before although there has been a 13 year gap. You would never have known. He is born to be on the stage and I very much hope he does not wait as long to give us his presence in the West End again. I know that a lot of people will be going to see this play because of him and in truth for the first ten minutes when he makes his entrance you can’t take your eyes off of him. But then I forgot he was who he is and found myself so absorbed by what was being said and what was going that I honestly just concentrated on the story. The first half is almost two hours long but hand on heart it did not feel like that at all. A lady who was sitting next to me was asleep for the majority of it and I felt like shaking her and saying “wake up, do you know what you are missing?!” The only times she woke up was when there was a lot of shouting or the music got a bit louder!
In the second half there was a lot of tension and suspense and gave it a whole different feel. This part of the play focused on the trials itself and without giving any spoilers away, the moment when Proctors wife is brought in to confirm his story I was on the edge of my seat willing her to give the right answer – I was literally nearly falling off I was so engrossed! Because of the way the director has put this play in the round you can see everything that’s going on and you feel that the actors are talking to you at times and involving you. I felt like we were being the jury in the proceedings and I have never felt so involved with a play as a member of the audience in my life.
The music, lighting, staging, ensemble, actors, choreography and direction were just sublime and I really can not find the words how to describe how phenomenal this production is.
I left the theatre in a daze and emotionally drained. How they perform that twice in a day I do not know but I was exhausted. I have not stopped thinking about it since and questioning the moral implications of what happened in it and just how awesome the whole thing was. I really can not recommend it highly enough and I have managed to get a cheap seat in the same area I was in before to see it again in a couple of weeks praying the full cast is on as it was last week. I have only ever seen a play more than once, once before many years ago and its because I took two separate people to see it and it was Macbeth which is my favourite Shakespeare. I never normally feel such a passion for something so much so that I want to drink it all in again and as this is closing in roughly 6 weeks time I did not want to miss the chance. I have been lucky enough to see many plays in the last 3 years that I have been back in London and many more before that and this is the best thing I have seen for a very very long time. I have loved many of the previous plays, but this is just beyond expression.
So that is it. My very long review of The Crucible.
I have heard grumblings about people misbehaving in the show, mobiles going off and inappropriate wolf whistles when Richard disrobes for a minute but it did not happen when I went so don’t let it put you off. If you are an autograph hunter please bear in mind that in between matinee and evening shows I believe it is highly unlikely that he will come out to sign as there is only a gap of 90 minutes between the matinee ending and the evening show going up and he needs to eat and clean up in that time. He does however spend a long time signing them after the evening shows and is willing to have photos taken and its done in a very civilised fashion (this is information I have sniffed out and not first hand experience!).