This is not a “review” of Yael Farber’s production of The Crucible. It is my impressions as both a Richard Armitage fan and a lover of theater. As you will see, those two designations sometimes come in conflict… SPOILERS AHEAD
Yikes! Scary John Proctor!
The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a scary play. People in this play act in ways totally relatable to current times, which is to say, in scary ways. In irrational ways. It’s central protagonist is John Proctor, a farmer in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony. In this production of the play, John is a strong, hard-working, PHYSICAL man. He has strong emotions. He loves his wife and children. He lusts after Abigail, a young woman working in his household. Abigail fancies him too, and is happy to oblige when John takes her in the stable. Abigail, in her innocence, thinks he loves her. Sadly for her, and for the town of Salem, that was not the case, or at least, not in the way she thinks he does. John is bound to his wife, his family, his home, his place in society. That kind of bond is not easily broken, least by a quicky in the barn with a household maid. Abigail accuses John of “thinking softly” of her, of wanting her, to the point where he would go to her home and look up at her window. He doesn’t deny it. Men do those things. Many of us have had that experience, where a man who has had a taste will show up…sniff around… all the time…. It must be part of male programming??
Then we go to the Proctors’ home, where Mrs. P. is working and waiting for her husband. She doesn’t expect anything extraordinary to happen. She lights the fire. Puts out a basin of water for him to wash up in. Checks his dinner. Kneads the bread for tomorrow. Puts it away. Where is he? She leaves the kitchen.
John comes home. Checks out the dinner. Stew. Tastes it. Ehhh. Puts some salt in it. OK. Better. Goes to the basin to wash up. Takes his shirt off. At this point I split into Theater Goer – Fangurl. With half-naked Richard Armitage in front of me, can John Proctor survive. No. See Part Two. John Proctor eats dinner. Mrs. P. comes back in.
Wham! The Proctors’ dance begins.
It is a dance. Pushing. Pulling. Who is in control? Who is the righteous one? Who is justified? Cold/Hot/Angry/Loving
All becomes for naught when the Sheriff comes knocking to take Mrs. P. away. Accused of being a witch. By Abigail. John breaks down. All is lost.
Mary Warren, another helper in the Proctor household. is part of Abigail’s “gang”. She knows that it is all a sham. That the girls are following Abigail’s lead in accusing innocent people as witches. Her boss, John Proctor, knows that Abigail is faking it too. If only they can let the authorities know, all will be well, right? Not so much.
The bad guys have other ideas. Solid John Proctor and his friends are no longer the pillars of society in this topsy-turvy land. Abigail says they are bad. That they walk with the Devil. The bad guys are invested in believing her and her pals. Based on their evidence, the prosecutors have condemned people to die. When John Proctor comes to say the emperor has no clothes, how can they believe him??
They can’t. They don’t. John Proctor winds up in prison. Condemned to hang. His only chance at “salvation” is if he confesses to have consorted with the Devil. To stay alive, John must confess to something that isn’t true. In a truly remarkable scene with his wife, he decides he wants to live, even if he must tell a lie. The Prosecutors want him to lie, desperate for someone to show the Townspeople that the girls’ accusations of their neighbors consorting with the Devil are true. If John Proctor, upright citizen and family man, confesses that he sold his soul to the Devil, then hanging those other folks makes it okay. Proves that the Devil is in Salem. John knows that by signing a paper saying this, the Prosecutors will use it to show the Townspeople. But John is only trying to save his life for his wife and family. If he doesn’t say he saw the Devil, he will hang. If he says he saw the Devil, he will live. John doesn’t want to sign a paper, because he knows the Prosectors will use it to prove they are right. John cannot agree to let them use a lie to save themselves. So, in the end, he hangs, rather than sign something that will allow the Prosecutors to get themselves off the hook. It is his NAME!
Richard Armitage as John Proctor is amazing. He is a loving husband, a lusting man, an upright citizen, a broken prisoner, a willing martyr. I never doubted for a second that he was John Proctor. Okay, in the performance I saw on 23 August he was a bit shouty towards the end. No nuance, just Thorin shouting and growling at the injustice of the world. I kind of lost John Proctor for a while. As Marie, the theater-goer, I can attest that actors are not always dead on perfect at every performance. Some performances are better than others. Sometimes the actor is tired or distracted for personal reasons. My friends that I was with felt it was not as great a performance by Mr. A. as the one they saw in July. Understandable. I am not complaining. What I saw was truly remarkable, even with quibbles.
As far as the other actors go, there was not a bad performance among them. Samantha Colley as Abigail Williams was intense, confused, defiant. Ann Firbank, as Rebecca Nurse, was consistently, believably a God-loving woman. William Gaunt, as Giles Corey, was heart-breakingly honest and loving. Natalie Gavin, as Mary Warren, was perfection as a young woman who wanted to be with God, but was persuaded by the bad girls that she should be with them. Sarah Niles as Tituba was compelling and believable as someone taken from her homeland and longing to be back with her people. Michael Thomas, as Rev. Parris was despicable and hateful and weak. Well done! Jack Ellis, as Deputy Governor Danforth, who signed the paper condemning innocent people to death, was incredibly scary as an irrational/rational man acting to fulfill his duty even when it was clear that he was off the track. Adrian Schiller, as Reverend Hale was a marvel. He was so convincing as the Reverend seeking to outwit Satan, and in the end, convinced that he was so so wrong, but how to put the Genie back in the bottle?? Lastly, Anna Madley. I cannot say enough about her masterful performance as Mrs. John Proctor. She communicated without shouting. Without any sort of histrionics. An ordinary woman forced to deal with extraordinary circumstances. She loved her husband. She loved her children. What to do when her husband strayed? In the end, their love for each other ruled the day. Poor Elizabeth Proctor. Good thing you had Anna Madley portraying your grief. Good job!
I am so glad this show has gotten the raves it deserves. The performance as a whole is so visceral. So PHYSICAL. The theater smells like a Colonial house. The lighting is the same. The sounds are haunting. Ashes rain down at some point. It is a PHYSICAL production. Enveloping.