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The Old Vic’s Screening of ‘The Crucible’

Richard Armitage stars in Arthur Miller’s classic American drama brought vividly to life in this visceral new production by internationally acclaimed director Yaël Farber.In a small tight-knit community, personal grievances collide with lust and superstition, fuelling widespread hysteria. Miller’s timeless parable attacks the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations.

Before watching this production of The Crucible I knew very little about the play and even less about the Salem Witch trials so I went with a completely open mind. When my friend first asked me if I wanted to go with her I agreed purely for the opportunity to go to the Old Vic and see the wonderful and dashing Mr Armitage live. It was later, and much to her mirth, that she informed me that I wouldn’t have to figure a way to get down to London on a Thursday after classes and be back in Nottingham for classes Friday morning.But my little anecdote illustrates the beauty of theatre screenings in local cinemas, making powerful, moving and renowned plays more accessible those who show an interest but are not fortunately situated and for that I am supremely grateful. The Crucible is not one to miss, it was crafted so simply but left the audience feeling raw and some (myself included) moved to tears. Visceral is absolutely right, feelings of fear and dread for characters but also a feeling of futility as you know there’s nothing that as the audience you can do to stop it.

The fact that you are watching on a screen rather than in the theatre does dramatically alter the way you watch it but with this production there was the impression that the directors were aware of this and used it to their advantage, to support the production as a whole. One example of this is during the set changes. At the theatre you would normally just sit and ignore the fact that various people walk on and off the stage with the set because you know it’s not a part of the play but it is a necessity. But because the camera mediates what we see in the cinema, the production team is a liberty to play with what we see. In the case of this screening slow motion and layering of frames were used to distort the stage so that yes we could still see that the props were being changed but the actors were also kept in view at all times but moving unnaturally slowly and somewhat transparent. This added to the eerie supernatural feeling that underpins the play itself. There was also excellent use of non-diagetic music to once again leave the audience feeling on edge and uncomfortable. I cannot say whether the music was used in the theatre production or purely for the screening but the use of music vs silence was expertly balanced. There were times when I hadn’t even noticed that the dark poignant had started up again until they stopped, leaving an eerie silence and a creepy stillness.

The play itself is testament to the actors and their talent as there is actually very little action to speak of throughout, barring the viciousness movements of the girls being possessed. There was mostly dialogue, conversation between characters but at no point did the story feel like it was dragging because of it. I never found myself asking when something was actually going to happen. In fact, when the intermission commenced, one of my friends turned and said ‘has it been two hours already?’ the drama was so gripping. If anything, because there is such a stillness about the play, it makes it all the more startling when there is suddenly an outburst of movement. I especially liked that the production was performed in the round which gave the camera the liberty of capturing any angle, nothing was hidden from us. The audience was all around and so the actors were more authentic as they didn’t have to cater to the fourth wall.

Arhur Miller’s play by nature makes you question ideals such as truth, honour, theology and loyalty to name a few. As I have never seen another production of The Crucible I cannot vouch for how successful it ordinarily is to convey those complexities but I will say that in this production I would defy anyone to come out the same person that they went in. I defy anyone not to leave heart sore or at the very least reflective. If this production is being shown at a cinema near you I implore you, take the time to go and see it. It is truly worth three and a half hours of your time more than any evening tv you could surely catch up on another time.

Don’t you think?

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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Cinema Review, Theatre Review

 

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National Theatre’s Frankenstein

Cast List

Let me preface this review with an apology. I am going to be discussing the screening of The National Theatre’s most recent production of Frankenstein starring Jonny Lee Miller as Dr Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Monster and therefore there may be points in which I give things away. I hope to limit this but as with all reviews it is often difficult to avoid and so I apologise. It is also worth stating that watching a theatre production and watching a screening of a theatre production are two very different experiences, both with their good and bad points. I will attempt to engage with these differences where I can.

The screening begins with a short introduction from the writer, Nick Dear, and Director, Danny Boyle. It is a nice touch that allows you to connect with the artistry of the production before you even begin as it allows you an insight in to their minds and anticipate changes that they explain their motivations. We also see a montage of both Miller and Cumberbatch in both roles which wouldn’t otherwise be possible unless you choose to see the production twice. We also hear from the actors themselves as the explain how they went about choosing how to portray the characters and what inspiration they use. It is a great resource for any actors of film buffs in the audience. But only to the cinema going audience as this opening introduction is not available to the theatre audience. The first thing they would have seen was the birthing of the Monster.

I do mean the literal birthing, the monster emerging from a womb like opening complete with umbilical cord. What is witnessed next can only be described as excruciatingly uncomfortable yet brilliant. The opening of the play sets up the tone as stated by Boyle. It is all about the Monster, we are made to watch and concentrate on nothing but the monster as he emerges and finds his feet, a cross between the primordial human and a fawn in the woods. This is one of the ways that the filming of the production differs from a film. You get the impression that Boyle has made the theatrical equivalent of a growing/learning montage. But instead of the scenes being sharply cut together showing rapid progress we get no breaks or reprieves. We are made to sit and watch as the, practically naked, monster stumbles around slowly animating his limbs and discovering his voice.

As always, Benedict Cumberbatch is extremely convincing in this role as he is with any. As anyone who has seen his audition for Smaug in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Cumberbatch embodies the character he is playing fully, even when it is only a speaking role. His portrayal of the monster is no different. It is almost as if his limbs actually don’t belong to him in places, animated as the rest of him is still as though he has no idea it is there. Very convincing indeed. But I can’t help but wonder what Miller would have done with the same scene on a different night. During the interview at the beginning he shares that as they kept swapping the roles, the characters began to bleed into each other sharing stutters and other characteristics. This makes you want to turn up the next night, knowing that the stories will be exactly the same just so you can pick out where it is different. To see if the characters will seem even more similar when they switch places. It is a fantastic experiment in characterisation and acting styles.

As stated before, this production is very much focused on the Monster, his feelings, motivations and experiences. We see Dr Frankenstein once at the beginning when he chases the monster away but then he doesn’t return again until the Monster goes looking for him much later. It is not until he returns later and we see his conduct with his fiancée/Cousin Elizabeth that it occurred to me, both Miller and Cumberbatch both play Sherlock Holmes, they share another character. Their portrayals of Sherlock are very different, almost as if they are of parallel universes. They are both modernised but Millers version is set in America, John is in fact Joan as well as Moriarty being a woman and a transgender Mrs Hudson. Cumberbatch’s version more traditional, using the original story lines in a modern setting. Therefore we are used to seeing these to actors comparatively through the characters they play. But more than that, we are used to seeing them distant and socially awkward yet absolutely brilliant.

What was strange was the casting of George Harris and Naomi HarrisBoth wonderful actors in their own right but it is entirely unexplained as to why, as members of the Frankenstein family, they are clearly from another heritage. It is never mentioned, alluded to or indicated that it is at all unusual. But I find that somewhat endearing, clearly to them it does not matter. As though it is not worth mentioning, they ask us to accept that this family appear to be from different cultural backgrounds but they are a family none the less, accept it and move on with the story. Much like the second movie in the Jurassic Park Trilogy, in which Jeff Goldblum’s daughter is black with no explanation as to why. It is what it is and we move on.

So, moving on, watching a the filming of a theatre production does have it’s pros and cons. For example, we are given the unique advantage of close ups and camera angles which is impossible in even the most expensive seats in the theatre, which raises my next point. It makes the experience a hell of a lot more affordable as well as accessible if, like the majority of the audience when I went to see it, you are a student in the midlands and can’t afford to pop to London on a week day to take in a show. But at the same time you are at the mercy of the director, more so than if you were in the theatre audience, you also don’t get the atmosphere that only seems to exist in the theatre. The awe of knowing that actors now considered national treasures are in the same room and putting on a show for us is lost in the cinema yet the fact that we are still in a cinema means that we do not lose the collective feel as you would when watching it on DVD at home. By being in the cinema, we are an extension of the theatre audience, laughing when they laugh (believe it or not there are some fairly comical moments) and jumping when they jump. If you can’t make it to the theatre to see an up and coming production, a cinema viewing is truly the next best thing.

Previous to this viewing, I had never seen a theatre production filmed for cinema actually at the cinema and now I wonder why I’ve never been sooner. With the calibre of acting and directing quality it was always going to be a fantastic and moving production and it certainly didn’t disappoint. If it is showing anywhere near you would implore you to go and see for yourself and if you can’t decide which version to see… go to both! I wish I had.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Cinema Review, Theatre Review

 

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