The Crux of The Crucible

I went to see The Crucible at The Old Vic via CinemaLive at Cinema Nova. This is my second such expedition. I saw Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch the same way a while ago. This play-as-film but is a play thing works. It doesn’t feel too cinematic yet I don’t seem to notice I’m removed from the direct experience of ‘being-in-the-theatre-ness’ of a truly live performance. If you have a better way to describe that feeling please let me know…

The usher joked it was a play to be endured rather than enjoyed, but I did enjoy it. It was certainly intensity in ten cities….but the story wasn’t what I thought it would be. Mind you my preparation for this play included not reading or watching anything at all.

All I knew was Arthur Miller/McCarthy. Thus, I thought it intriguing the notion that criticism of legal argument was felt to be criticism of the court, which wasn’t allowed and I was momentarily distracted by considering what our examples today would be…Peter Greste et al in Cairo, maybe WikiLeaks…

Basically though, I thought the play was a commentary on relationships. Yes, there was teen hysteria and witch craft trials (and call outs to the McCarthy era), but to me at least, it felt like a play about an imperfect, but average couple negotiating serious adult stuff, including something like postpartum depression, employee management and infidelity.

The Proctors lose and find each other, they each discover what they believe and what they stand for individually, while working out what they mean to each other, in a small community swept up in religious fervour and petty feuds.

There’s apparently been plenty of praise for Richard Armitage as John Proctor and rightly so, but the entire ensemble just gets it. From the girls who eventually form a Greek Chorus of manipulative crazy in the court room to husbands desperate to save the lives of their wives, there is no performance to fault.

Natalie Gavin made her Mary Warren memorable under the pressure of both Proctor and the judge Danforth (an imperious Jack Ellis). There are wry laughs at the court scenes, especially involving those with Giles Corey and that helped getting through the really intense stuff later.

The Proctors complement and yet contrast each other and that made them real to me. Anna Madeley as Elizabeth Proctor made a deep impression. Quieter than her husband, her Elizabeth is no less powerful in revealing her convictions and self discoveries, even as Armitage’s Proctor gets to deliver all the grand speechifying about identity and guilt.

Anyway, here is Richard Armitage speaking about the play in a real interview (as in not some Hollywood-lite ET News-esque 5 second fast food thing that seems the lot of traditional media interaction with any sort of theatre type these days).  I’m not even sure I agree with all of his conclusions but hey, he played the character and they are his learned comments.

Unless you take my high school curriculum into account, I’m no expert on theatre, but Yaël Farber’s direction didn’t make it feel like some post- whatsit self-conscious commentary on modern western life. No, Arthur Miller’s 60 year + old script did that. However, it felt alien, or foreign enough that it seemed faithful to events described in Salem from 1692/3. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with Farber’s direction of the actors, her vision of the set and the stage craft.

The theatre in the round worked for me too as more intimate but also ‘artistic’. Artistic too, is deliberate in this play, due to its themes and setting. It’s a story that involves a lot of ‘public performance’ in court and for Salem residents. The witch-girls are performing or ‘pretending’, deliberately lead by Abigail, as is the Reverend Hale, as he later reveals, while each of the residents play their part in a town where everyone is suddenly judged and mostly found wanting.

Thus, that this performance feeling is heightened somewhat is fitting, as this becomes a study in how some crumble under the elaborate pressure of accusations and threats and imminent death while others rise above it all.

And that is entirely the point of the title.

So if you get the chance, prithee go see it at the cinema, if not I hear a rumour of a possible download of it.

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