I went to see ‘The Crucible’ at the Old Vic yesterday…

My story, as to how I ended up in this crazy seat, is a bit mad – but let’s give it a go.

Richard Armitage edit 1

You see, I was first introduced to ‘The Crucible’ when I studied it for GCSE, age 15/16, and I fell in love with it.  Even hearing it read, extraordinarily badly, by teenagers, didn’t dampen my immediate draw to the story.  I couldn’t then, and still can’t, put my finger on what it is about the play that hooks me in, only that if someone was to ask me “what’s your favourite play?” I’d reply, in an instant, ‘The Crucible’.

Fast-forward 15 years to June-ish this year, and I’m doing the #BookADay tag on my old blog, and one of the questions refers (I think) to my favourite play.  I, of course, know my answer, and – on a whim – I type ‘The Crucible’ into Google.  Something I do every couple of years, to see if anywhere vaguely local and/or decent is putting it on.  Imagine my surprise to see that it’s just started a run at The Old Vic.  Somewhere I’ve of course heard of, but never been to, and not to mention that it happened to be starring an actor that I’ve long since had a bit of a distant soft spot for. 😉  Needless to say, I needed no time to decide that this was going to something I HAD to see, and headed straight for the ticket page.

I’m not quite sure why, but for any dates I looked at, I had my pick of the seats and figured “why not?”  I’d waited 15 years to see the play again (saw it done by – I think – a Warwick-based theatre group when still at school), so I decided to go big, and dropped £85 on a front row seat…

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After an unduly long rail journey (thanks for that, engineering), I made it into London.  Early, I killed time at the War Museum.  Tried to look serious in the World War I and holocaust exhibitions, but occasionally having to hide little squeals of “SO EXCITED!” in my scarf.

Finally got into the theatre, stepped around the chairs on the stage and took my seat…  Sat there, and literally could.not.believe.it.  No stage, not even a slightly raised area.  Just there, virtually as a participant in the action myself.  Especially as the front row were as illuminated as the cast at times.  It could also be a bit of a dangerous area.  One woman in the next block over had the Abigail Williams character fall into her leg.  A man opposite me got a knock from a falling chair, Mary Warren was mere inches from sitting on my foot.

Richard Armitage edit 2

Performed, as it was, in the round, the actors made full use of the space.  There were times when I couldn’t see the speaker, because another actor was standing in the way.  But that didn’t bother me.  If anything, it leant to the sense of being a fly on the wall during the events that unfurled.

Throughout the whole thing I was right in the midst of the action, to the extent of feeling like a character in the play myself.  At any point I could have reached up and tapped any number of the performers on the back.  And not having that step up to the stage, removed any sense of “us and them” between audience and actor.

And as for the performances themselves, every single one of them was first class.  I adored Reverend Hale, a character I’d not had a particular interest in before, and Mary Warren.  And Richard Armitage as John Proctor…  Wowzas.  Proctor has ALWAYS been my favourite character in the piece, but RA brought him to life in a huge way for me (not to mention that RA seemed to tower, physically, over every other actor, which helped make him the driving force of the play). 

Little Bits I noticed That I can’t Mention Anywhere Else :-

  • Amazing costumes…  They were period, without being too cutesy-puritan-costumey, particularly the girls, and Proctor.  They looked more modern-day Amish than 1600s American puritans.  I particularly liked the tiny detail to the back of Proctor’s jacket, where it had been clearly mended.  A detail that no-one past about row 4 would have even noticed.
  • Abigail Williams’ face during Elizabeth Proctor’s questioning…  Shaking, crying, amazing acting.
  • The look of absolute cringing fear on Mary Warren’s face every single time Proctor came anywhere near her…  And judging by that scary-looking whip he threatens her with, I’m not surprised!
  • Actual food being served up, which RA did eat some of.  I wondered what it was?
  • The dark, dingy, smoke-filled auditorium that the audience entered to.  Immediately both claustrophobic and atmospheric. 
  • Okay…  RA taking his shirt off to have a wash.  Being just feet away from a guy scrubbing his armpits felt like an invasion of a rather private moment!
  • The make-up artist work on John and Elizabeth when they come to be re-united in the prison.  The pale faces, dark eye circles and bloodied feet.
  • Being able to clearly see the signature “John Proctor” written on his confession of witchcraft, just before he tears it up.

 

For what it’s worth, I thought RA was much better in the role than Daniel Day-Lewis was in the film version.  I didn’t find DDL a particularly likeable Proctor (too sleezy/slimy for my taste), and I think that, for the play to work, you do need to ultimately like John. 

For all his flaws, as his wife says near the end, “you are a good man, John Proctor.”

 

At the very end, I made eye-contact with the woman next to me, who I didn’t know, and both of us let out the huge eyebrow-raising breath we hadn’t realised we’d been holding for 3 hours straight.  It was amazing.  The best thing I’ve seen on stage for years.  Bravo, bravo.

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