Yael Farber's The Crucible is a triumph of atmosphere and acting
“ . . . . an everlasting funeral marches round your heart.“
John Proctor to his wife
The South African born director Yael Farber, after an award winning Mies Julie brings her dark touch to Arthur Miller’s iconic play about prejudice, politics and hysteria The Crucible. Set in the 17th century in Salem, the witch trials were a matter of record, probably driven by greed for land confiscated from witches but as Miller was writing he was thinking about the trials in twentieth century America, the witch hunt for Communists that was instigated by Senator McCarthy.
The lead character is John Proctor (Richard Armitage), a good man who has been foolish enough to encourage the sexual attention of his servant Abigail Williams (Samantha Colley). Abigail has been sacked from their household after his sick wife Elizabeth Proctor (Anna Madeley) became suspicious.
Various vicars and magistrates are brought in to investigate the witch incidences after there are reports of dancing in the woods led by a slave from the Caribbean, Tituba (Sarah Niles). John Proctor has not been a regular church goer and is opposed to the local incumbent priest, the mercenary Reverend Parris (Michael Thomas) who lusted after golden candlesticks for his church. The Reverend John Hale (Adrian Schiller) initially investigates but good man Hale is replaced by the lupine politician, Deputy Governor Danforth (Jack Ellis).
When the teenage girls simulate mass hysteria as they experience their power to accuse the adults of their community, no-one is safe. Yael Farber’s brooding production has an almost medieval feel to it, swathed in ignorance and suspicion. All are dressed in dark clothing, the woman with dark scarves wound round their heads; there are no white puritan collars on show here. Giles Corey (William Gaunt)’s wife Martha is accused of reading a book.
“The world goes mad, ” says Hale at the end of Act One. By the opening of Act Two, 400 have been jailed and 72 are to hang. Although Danforth says, “We burn a hot fire here. It melts down all concealment.” no one can see the dissembling of the young girls who shake their long hair covering their faces and shiver and quiver in mass convulsive hysteria at imaginary witches.
Richard Armitage, with his Hugh Jackman good looks, is superb as John Proctor, caught when his wife is less than honest about his adultery. He is noble and true as he battles the insanity of the trials. I liked also Adrian Schiller, a fine actor in the supporting role of the reasonable Reverend John Hale. Anna Madeley I found rather staccato in the delivery of her final speech. Clarity is important but that stress on each word was annoying and after three and a half hours we were wishing that she could speed up.
Soutra Gilmour’s set is minimal, a few wooden chairs and with corridor entrances at the back of the stage. The Crucible is a magnificent play; Miller’s writing is exquisite. There were points in this sinister production in the “in the round” Old Vic where I jumped out of my skin as the cast crept down the stairs towards the stage. I jumped and grasped my companion at one particularly scary moment. Yael Farber’s creation of atmosphere is second to none. This production of The Crucible is not for the faint hearted but go for Richard Armitage’s sure to be nominated acting performance.
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Yael Farber
Director: Yael Farber
Designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Designer: Tim Lutkin
Music and Sound: Richard Hammarton
Movement: Imogen Knight
Running Time: Three hours 35 minutes with one interval
Closed at the Old Vic on 13th September 2014
The Old Vic
London SE1 8NB
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Old Vic
on 8th July 2014