Writer: Arthur Miller
Stage Director: Yaël Farber
Film Director: Robert Delamere
Reviewer: Carrie Armstrong
When Arthur Miller penned The Crucible as an allegory of McCarthyism and House of Representatives on Un-American Activities, he could hardly have envisaged what his audience would experience over 60 years later. When the very latest in sound and visual film technology would collide with one of England’s oldest and most traditional of theatre experiences. In a riot of Dolby surround sound, high definition camera work and the very brightest of UK theatrical talent, the Old Vic’s performance of The Crucible is captured on screen by Robert Delamere’s film company, Digital Theatre.
It shouldn’t work. But it does.
Director Yaël Farber sets the tale of Puritanical witch hunting in traditional Salem, yet with a twist that features a cast with exclusively Lancastrian accents (save the stranger in town Rev. Parris who hails from Wales).
It is a weird experience watching a piece of theatre on screen, no matter how well done (and the quality of this screening is stellar.) It is so well done that you forget at times it is not being filmed in-real-time, as it were. It’s a three and a half hour show which is divided with a traditional theatre interval of ten minutes. Again it works. Again, it shouldn’t.
The casting is flawless. There is not one cast member who appears out of their depth. Not one line is wasted, not one look; which is impressive, given that the majority are seasoned television actors. Yet not one of them feels the need to make it a performance aimed for screen. They stay true to their theatrical direction and play the piece as Farber intended, entirely for the audience at the Old Vic, leaving Delamere the task of making it work for screen. A challenge he lives up to entirely
How do you film a production of the Crucible at the Old Vic theatre in-the-round? That task alone would have sent most film directors screaming for the door, but Delamere responds with a creation that is incredible in its subtlety, mirroring the sparsity of the set, the subtlety of the sound, the bleakness of the subject matter reflected in the lighting. He does nothing but enhance the original performance, magnifying it in a way that delivers the perfect theatrical film experience.
Farber and Delamere never intended to simply replicate the original performance for a film audience, instead they have created an entirely new viewing experience – a marriage of the very best of screen technology and traditional theatre. The makeup, when it exists at all, is entirely theatrical. The costumes designed for stage. All wide shots on camera include audience members. Nothing is removed from the theatre of the piece. Instead the on-screen aspect gives extra depth and layers to an already incredibly detailed piece of collaborative acting
And so to Richard Armitage; who is, quite frankly, astounding. It would be very easy for a man of his looks and stature to simply smoulder his way through a performance of this nature while playing John Proctor. But he doesn’t. Instead he shows weakness, makes himself smaller than he is – deliberately less charismatic, far less polished and way more vulnerable.
The strong portrayal of the young girls of Salem injects a very watchable aspect of physical theatre into the performance, which translates well on film. Samantha Colley’s interpretation of Abigial Williams being particularly memorable.
Farber and Delamere have created something beautiful. Something entirely different and totally in keeping with the zeitgeist. A moulding of two very different mediums that only add to the viewer’s experience, bringing it to a much wider audience than could ever have been anticipated before. Because that’s the real power of an alliance like this. That it has been captured for posterity now, encapsulated permanently on film so that it’s ensured this stunning partnership of stage and screen will never go waste.
The Crucible is being screened in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on 4th and 7th December.
For more details visit www.thecrucibleonscreen.com
Photo: Johan Persson