Saturday, 20 December 2014

Theatre Review: The Crucible

Earlier this week I went to see a cinema screening of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, a production on at The Old Vic earlier this year. I love going to these as I quite often find out about shows that were on ages ago that I didn't get to see, so these cinema screenings mean you don't have to miss out on things. A very chilling, gruelling piece with little comic relief, The Crucible is definitely one to steel yourself for.

Written in the 1950s, The Crucible tells the partially fictionalised story of the Salem witch trials that took place in America in the late 17th century. The play opens with a panicked Reverend Parris watching over his seriously ill daughter Betty, as it is assumed that her illness has come as a result of exposure to witchcraft. Several women throughout the play are accused of witchcraft by the rather psychotic 17-year-old Abigail Williams, including Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of Abigail's ex-lover John Proctor. This, of course, makes for a very tense atmosphere for both the characters and the audience.

My initial reaction was shock about how long it was. It runs at around three and a half hours, not including the ten minute interval, so it was quite a long time for me to sit still and pay attention! That said, I did find the majority of it really gripping. There is a really powerful, dialogue-free movement sequence at the beginning of the play, all amidst a lot of smoke which sets a suitably eerie tone for the rest of the play. Samantha Colley who plays Abigail is fantastic as she is believably manipulative and unhinged whilst accusing people of witchcraft. Natalie Gavin is also really strong as a servant to the Proctors who gets caught up in the accusations of witchcraft and is torn as to where her loyalties lie. Although she has a fairly small part, I thought Sarah Niles who plays Reverend Parris' slave Tituba was brilliant and really stood out for me.

I did find in parts of it there was a bit too much shouting and not a lot of variety in the levels of speech, if that makes sense. One of the main culprits for this is the play's selling point, Richard Armitage, who plays John Proctor. I wasn't 100% sold by his performance as it becomes a little monotonous and unconvincing. As for the filming of it, it's sometimes a bit too cinematic for me, with closeups and fading in and out. Some will disagree with me on this but when I watch cinema screenings of theatre performances, I like them to be as similar to seeing the real thing as possible, with no fancy special effects or filming.

Overall, I think it's really well-put together production that remains gripping and core-chilling throughout. Definitely worth a trip! It's on for a while longer I think in lots of different locations around the world if you fancy seeing it.

Have any of you seen it?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Theatre Review: Visitors

A few weeks ago I went to see new young writer Barney Norris' first full-length play Visitors with my university drama society at the Bush Theatre in Shepherd's Bush. I knew absolutely nothing about the play before getting tickets but I rather enjoyed it. In a society where one-night stands with strangers and non-committal relationships have become the norm, I think Barney Norris has managed to create a touching piece of theatre about marital love, family life and growing old together.

Taking place in the Salisbury Plain farmhouse of elderly couple Arthur and Edie, the play follows the pair’s decline into old age and its all too frequent companion dementia. Recognising that life is no longer as easy for them as it was, their son Stephen enlists university graduate Kate to be their carer whilst he attempts to put his mother into a home and sell his parents’ farm, na├»ve to the unsettling effect these changes will have on all involved.

Whilst this play, entirely set in a living room, takes some time to gather momentum, the chemistry between Arthur (Robin Soans) and Edie (Linda Bassett) is convincing from the outset. Bassett is especially strong in playing an elderly woman descending into dementia; her condition is not evident from the start but when she repeats an anecdote for the third time the heart sinks as you realise what she is coping with. I think Norris hit the nail on the head with Edie as she often makes remarks that make the audience laugh without realising she is being funny, in that way that grandparents often do. For such a young writer, Norris seems to have an incredibly perceptive understanding of dementia and of the elderly, creating a poignant character whose condition will resonate with many. Because of the intimate setting the audience was made to feel like intruders at times into such personal family dilemmas - it reminded me of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming in that sense.

With the first half slightly lagging in pace, tension rises in the second half as Edie deteriorates and Stephen’s marriage falls apart. Simon Muller’s accurate portrayal of Stephen as a middle-aged man unable to do anything right in his life creates a sense of pathos in the audience. I don't know if this was the intention but I often felt very sorry for Stephen as he was quite a pathetic, helpless character in the depths of a mid-life crisis, who tried to get things right but didn't quite manage. However, the audience's sympathies simultaneously lie with Kate (Eleanor Wyld) who is disgusted with Stephen’s incompetence. I felt both Kate and Stephen's characters were far more developed in the second half and I enjoyed their performances so much more.

There were several really touching moments and comments about the fast, incessant pace of life and how we all have so much less time than we think we have, which means we take the time we have for granted. It really did make me think about it afterwards. All in all, Visitors is at once funny and tragic, heartfelt and brilliant, and is sure to make every audience member want to call their mum afterwards.

This is on until the 10th January at the Bush Theatre; if I had been organised and posted this right after I saw it, it would've allowed a lot more time to go and see it, but alas!
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