Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Crucible, Royal Exchange Theatre 3/10/15

"This performance lasts three hours and ten minutes with one twenty minute interval" -  Words to strike fear into the heart of any theatregoer who has experienced the joy of an more arduous production. Picture if you will the scenes of chaos when the Royal Exchange decided to crash together Acts One and Two of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe into a single over two hour ' first act' . Slower moving theatre goers were trampled in the sprint for the toilets when the interval was declared. Then of course there is added danger of jaw dislocation as you try to stifle the yawns in a production that the directors really should have edited. Thankfully, neither of these theatrical perils were realised in the Exchange's latest production, Arthur Miller's The Crucible, thanks in a large part to the talented cast who hold your attention throughout.

Somehow, I've managed to reach my advanced age without ever having seen a production of The Crucible on stage or screen, despite it being one of Miller's most widely performed plays. I was, of course, aware of its subject matter, the Salem witch trials, and watching it performed, it was easy to draw comparisons with many more modern references, the most obvious being the McCarthy era in the U.S. But the mass hysteria, bandwagon jumping and a refusal to recognise the facts over the panic mongering portrayed is played out time and time again today.

Perhaps as a nod to the modern reflections, the male characters in this production wore present day dress, but this contrasted weirdly in the decision to dress female characters in a kind of repressed Amish like manner. There was probably a very deep meaning to this but it was lost on me. Also lost on me was the design choice to flood the stark and effective  stage set towards the end of the production. It was cleverly done and looked impressive but I didn't entirely see the point.

As mentioned, the cast gave impressive performances, in particular the central characters of John and Elizabeth Proctor, Jonjo O'Neill and Matti Houghton clearly gave their all to the parts. And Rachel Redford gave a delightfully manipulative and hard faced portrayal of the central accuser Abigail.

All in all, despite not totally buying in to the design decisions, I did enjoy this production, it felt powerful and relevant, and the cast was superb. The initially dread inducing running time was justified and I was engaged throughout by the performances and the play itself which, despite its 17th century setting, has powerful messages for a modern era.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alison. You aren't alone in your puzzlement. The very things that you found odd also struck me as hard to explain and, dare I say it, rather pointless. The dress thing was very silly and I refuse to waste my time trying to put meaning to it. The water on the cracked surface might signify the recovery of the community after the tide turned against the accusers. Or it might not. It didn't add anything much, anyway.

    I don't think this was an exceptional production but The Crucible is a colossal work whose impact is felt in all but the really bad productions - and this certainly wasn't bad. Like you, I thought O'Neill and Houghton (both of whom I'd seen before in productions I didn't much like - 'The Effect' and ''Tis Pity She's a Whore') made a good team with the laurels perhaps going to Houghton simply because it's easier to shine in a peach of a role like John Proctor; much harder to impress as Elizabeth. I also loved Sam Cox as Giles Corey (worth reading up on the real GC - a fascinating character).

    The stature of this play is emphasised by your comments about its relevance for today. The fact that a play which was ostensibly about 17c witch trials and well-known to have been written in response to specific events at the time of writing but still manages to have relevance for events years after its time speaks volumes about its greatness. Unlike you, I have seen it many times and the last production I saw was on when GW Bush was saying 'if you are not with us you are with the terrorists'; and lines like 'is the accuser always holy now?' could be used with reference to several recent and current news stories. Pure genius.

    If you can get to Liverpool before the end of the month I recommend 'The Glass Menagerie' at the Playhouse. It's an unconventional but really thoughtful and intelligent approach to the play and all four acting performances are top notch.