Like thousands of others, I studied Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ in English back in my younger days and fell in love with the piece. I jumped at the chance, then, to see this screening of the Old Vic’s lauded production starring Richard Armitage, staged earlier this year.
The play, which concerns itself with mass hysteria, vengeance, honour and the scarily awesome power of teenage girls is a masterpiece in allegory. For although the action of the play focuses on the Salem witch hunt of the 1690s, Miller was clearly commenting on his own experience of the McCarthy witch hunt of communists in 1950s America.
The film has certainly captured the emotional intensity of this beautifully written play and the powerful truth the Old Vic’s production, directed by Yaël Farber. Farber has wrung every moment of drama and pathos from her excellent cast, particularly Armitage who palpably exemplifies John Proctor’s indignation: such was the strength of his performance that I felt Proctor’s struggle and fury in the very pit of my own stomach.
Samantha Colley, as scheming Abigail Williams, exuded spite and malice from every poisonous pore and ably lead her devilish harem in powerful and unsettling displays of mass hysteria in the court room. Particularly brilliant was the moment when the gaggle are called into the hearing: a single icy look from Williams and old, invalid men jump from their chairs so that the all-powerful ‘children’ witnesses may sit.
Part two is certainly pacier than its predecessor and the courtroom scene is particularly visceral: all shouted accusation, righteous anger and self-serving piousness. Jack Ellis (who some may remember as ‘Bad Girl’s’ bad boy Jim Fenner) gives a bravura performance – the very epitome of pompous officiousness and self-aggrandisement.
The final scene of the play is incredibly involving as the judges, reverends and governors manipulate, weasel and machinate to get as many confessions as possible from the condemned men and women, sentenced to hang for consorting with the devil. As the tide turns against them and the spectre of a villagers revolt looms large, these desperate men beg for Proctor’s full signed confession to nail to the church door.
The play’s tragic yet triumphant ending brought me to tears, as did the quiet strength of Anna Madeley’s Elizabeth Proctor. Her manifest pride during her husband’s last moments could not fail to move even the most cynical of cinema-goers.
My one complaint about this filmed version is that they have turned theatre transitions, where scenery is moved and the set changed in a matter of moments into minute-plus interludes with blurred shots and atmospheric music. At over three hours, the play is long enough without these ponderous lulls.
It’s brilliant that Digital Theatre are bringing exceptional productions like this to more than just those geographically and financially fortunate enough to see them live. If you’ve free on the 4th or 7th December, get down to your local cinema and watch this wonderful production of this spectacular play. You certainly won’t see writing, acting or direction of this quality amongst your usual multiplex fodder.
Reviewed by Jody Tranter
UK screenings are being held on 4th & 7th December. Check out www.thecrucibleonscreen.com for more information