As one Arthur Miller play closes in the Cut, another one opens. A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic – which finished its run a couple of weeks ago – is one of the best productions I have ever seen. By definition, it would be unfair to think of The Crucible in the same terms. But the production, that is directed by Yaël Farber and started performances at the Old Vic a week ago, invites these comparisons itself. In many ways, The Crucible feels like the film negative of A View From The Bridge: you can see the similarities in approach, the pieces having the same shape, but the results are different.
Let’s talk about the obvious: the current “running time” for The Crucible is 3.5 hours. It doesn’t feel as long, but its unhurried nature is often at the expense of tension. The Crucible is full of atmosphere – it feels like a black and white lithographic portrait, full of life in the shadows – but it often stalls, until it jumps ahead again. It’s full of beautiful images – ash falling from the sky like a grotesque representation of snow – but it often holds them a little too long. Occasionally pauses eviscerate a scene. (In A View from The Bridge, some scenes were played with an unnatural, almost perverse rhythm. As a result, the play was throbbing with life. Not so much here: vitality often is flattened as a result).
The hero of the play is John Proctor – played by Richard Armitage – a farmer caught in the middle of the witch hunt in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Not only is he is personally implicated but also implicated for personal reasons. Armitage is good but not great. His righteousness has a shouty quality, an actorly growl more effect than essence. His despair is much closer to the mark, earthier, tender, heartbreaking.
The production catches fire with the presence of two other actors, Adrian Schiller and Anne Madeley. Schiller plays Reverend John Hale, a man of the cloth who believes in the judicial process until he realises he has blood on his head. He is the one character in the play who thinks of god in moral terms, he has a moral dialogue with his soul. I missed Schiller every second he wasn’t on stage. His moral struggle was like he was sweating blood. He also landed some of the few funny lines in the play. Anne Madeley, playing John’s wife Elizabeth, has a quiet dignity unsoured by righteousness. Despite the character’s puritan qualities, she projected love and a mellow heart.
Despite its qualities, it remains a frustrating production. Stop and start, it gets close to achieving something remarkable but falls short of this aspiration.
P.S. <minor spoilers> I can’t be the only one to notice the misogynistic undercurrents of the play. In the character of Abigail Williams – portrayed with ire and fire by Samantha Colley – we have a teenage girl, seduced by an older man who is also her employer (can it get more creepy?). The moment she starts to understand her desires and expresses an independence voice, she also uses her newfound power to destroy. Abigail is evil because she is a sexual human being. That has misogyny written all over it.
P.P.S. My friend revstan had a more enthusiastic reaction to the production, you can read her review here.