If you’re looking for a review filled with gushing sentiment about Richard Armitage, go someplace else. You won’t find it here. Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I enjoyed ‘The Crucible’ both times I’ve seen it, and for very different reasons. There were strengths and issues in both performances, and I’m not going to go into the minutiae of Armitage’s expressions and movement, or any of the others on-stage, because that’s not the way my brain has been wired. I will admit that the fangirl part of me kept shrieking at me throughout the first time I attended the performance,* and I struggled to silence her, allowing me to pay attention to the full story unfolding before me. Because I didn’t just pay £85 to stare at one guy and not watch an entire play. If I just wanted to stare at him, I could have stayed at home and replayed interviews on YouTube,** thereby saving myself scads of money. However, Fangirl Bitch had the last laugh by not pressing ‘record’, and most of what I saw during the 22 August performance was reduced in my memory to mere reaction, based on vague recollection. Except for Act Two between Elizabeth and John, with the ghost of Abigail ever-present between them – that remains etched clearly in my mind, and Fangirl can’t take that away from me.
When the opportunity presented itself to see it again, I jumped at it.*** I guess I went with the hope for a repeat performance of the exact same intensity and overwhelming hysteria I experienced on the first viewing. Yet, there were many different factors involved in yesterday’s performance, all of which must have had some kind of impact on the production, that the second viewing – while good – did not match up. It is the final week of performances; this was an extra matinee on a day the cast didn’t usually have one; there were cameras filming all around the stage; the director herself was in the audience. Several voices were breaking under the strain, some of the actors seemed to be quite self-conscious around the cameras (or that could just be my impression), and there was a sense of just general exhaustion. These are humans, with limitations, and this cast is rapidly approaching theirs.
I wrote in my original review how the cast ‘became … something more than human‘. The in-the-round stage added to that impression, especially when you are sat in the Stalls; you almost become a part of the performance. That impression was less tangible when sat in the Dress Circle, for the distance from the stage reduced that impact noticeably for me. At least this time, I was able to see more of the play as a play, which was the whole reason for returning for a second sitting.
This time, I was able to see reactions at pivotal moments in the script, rather than staring at the actors’ backs, or having to strain to see around standing bodies or props. From that distance, I could not see the micro-expressions of the actors that other attendees have seen, but I could encompass more of the action – and the acting of an ensemble – and watch Miller’s play for the masterpiece it is. Though it is arranged as in-the-round, the traditional direction of the audience was favoured in the staging, especially for these pivotal moments. The only lie of Elizabeth’s life – nearly all key players faced the traditional direction; that kiss of unconditional love and passion between Elizabeth and John – also aimed in the traditional direction. And the several new factors all had an impact on these moments. Elizabeth’s ‘no’ was nearly inaudible as Madeley’s voice showed the strain of the long run; while some could argue that this a) was a human accident or b) enhanced the performance, the reaction of the cast on-stage seemed disproportionate to her squeaked response. At the opening of the play, various cast members seemed more than aware that they were being filmed, lending a stiffness to their performance until Miller’s words took over. Some of the staging was altered to account for the cameras, which is understandable. The pace was slower than my first viewing – though the reason for that could be anything from exhaustion, unusual time for performing, to some other factor unknown to the rest of us. However, it gave me more chance to process and engage and philosophize in my head while watching, without losing the thread or the energy of the performance.
I enjoyed this second viewing for the academic experience of the play, whereas the first was about the overwhelming emotion of the cast. For those of you too far away to travel, fret not, for with the filmed version, you will get the best of both worlds – front row and dress circle distances – without paying to see it twice.
*NB: A completely internal battle of wills, and I did not ever shout out during the performance. Just had to say, in case a rumour starts going around Twitter that I did a mad/bad thing. Which I didn’t.
** Which I don’t do, and I’m saying this to put hubby’s mind at rest – I’m actually writing and doing stuff all day!
*** The very next day, The Old Vic announced that they would be filming the play… train tickets weren’t refundable, so ‘down Sawf’ I went.