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The Crucible @The Old Vic – Review

So in July I decided it was high time I visited London again, and why not squeeze in a play. Or two as it happens 🙂

Benedict Cumberbatch had been recently announced as Richard III in the next instalment of BBC’s The Hollow Crown (which had already given us memorable performances by Ben Wishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeremy Irons, Alexander Armstrong, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale,…,), Hugo Weaving was playing Macbeth at the Sydney Theatre Company, Martin Freeman Richard III at Trafalgar Studios and Richard Armitage was in The Crucible at The Old Vic Theatre.

The Hollow Crown 2 a long while away, flying to Australia for Macbeth (sadly!) not an option,…what’s a fangirl to do? Get tickets for The Crucible and Richard III (which I promise to review soon-ish) and get on a plane to London of course!

The Crucible

In a small tight-knit community, personal grievances collide with lust and superstition, fuelling widespread hysteria. Miller’s timeless parable attacks the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations.

Now, there are three things that made me want to see this: Richard Armitage, The Old Vic, the play.

Richard Armitage. I’ve said this before: I’d listen to him (and a few others) read the phone book out aloud, happily. So I wasn’t about to pass on the chance of seeing him on stage and see if he could bring that intensity he’s shown on many films before in front of a live audience. He certainly can.
Also, The Old Vic shared these pics from the rehearsals (which are up there with the Coriolanus pics from the Donmar as far as fan service is concerned…and I enjoyed each and every one of them!).

The Old Vic. I’ve been to quite a few theatres in the West End and I’m always fascinated by their architecture, and The Old Vic is simply gorgeous! And if you’re sitting in the first rows of the stalls  (on all sides of the round) you’re extremely close to the action!

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For The Crucible the set designers have transformed this incredible space in a very intimate setting, draping dark cloth over the balconies, exposed brick and concrete, smoke enveloping the stage, dim lighting, a few simple props that the cast move around from scene to scene, and a deep throbbing noise, all contributing to the slow-building of an oppressive mood of paranoia and dread before the show even starts.
I wish there were pics of the transformed stage because it’s such a different space from the usual setting in the pic above.

The Play. The Crucible is a 1953 play by the American playwright Arthur Miller. It’s a partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s, a dramatization which Miller wrote as an allegory of McCarthyism. No cheerful walk in the park then 🙂

And at 3 hours 30 minutes (including the 20 minute interval) The Old Vic’s production is certainly not short! Nevertheless, time flies in the longer first part and it’s only when you get to the interval that you realise how much tension you’ve built up! The second part even more so as you see the hysteria and injustice pervading the play, and you seriously consider walking up to these people to shake them and make them realise how irrationality has completely taken over their actions! The play makes you feel powerless as a spectator and at the end you’re an emotional wreck! You know, in a good way 🙂

Richard Armitage as John Proctor is commanding when screaming his heart and lungs out (seeing the play twice at a month’s distance I was surprised that Jack Ellis and him had any voice left in them!) but truly shines in the more intimate moments, with a stillness that is spell-binding!

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For how much the play was advertised as a Richard Armitage vehicle, The Crucible is very much an ensemble piece. Samantha Colley is devious and vengeful as Abigail Williams, William Gaunt is both funny and heartbreaking as Giles Corey, Anna Madeley dignified in her portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor. In particular for me the stand-out was Adrian Schiller as Reverend John Hale, a character who is so eager to help the community that he puts words in the girls’ mouths only to later realise that reason has completely left Salem and he was part of the vicious circle that in the end brought so many to a dire end.

Photo by Johan Persson

Photo by Johan Persson

Not a walk in the park, but very much worth seeing if you get a chance!

The Crucible is playing at The Old Vic until September 13th.

All pics courtesy of The Old Vic

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