Sorry for the unintentional cliff-hanger, but my fingers needed some rest and so did my brain after reliving quite a bit of the past year. I’ve also decided to continue in a new post once I realised the length of the previous.
So where was I? Ah, here.
And then there was the epic & life changing! Or life with and after The Crucible.
There have been a few things over the years that I have seen and which I know I will always remember, but the ones with a permanent impact on the way I feel and thing are very few (I’m strictly speaking about live performances here).
Seeing Wagner’s Ring for the first time I think is something that makes an impact on anyone who experiences it. It certainly was the first time I lost sleep over performances for prolonged periods of time, but I saw 3+ full ones over a period of just 3 weeks and a lot of it had to do with the cumulated impact of it and the sense of accomplishment and shared depth of experience, especially the very last Gotterdammerung, it felt as if we had been on a journey together with everyone on stage, in the pit and also the production team. It didn’t completely change the way I understand Wagner’s music but it made a significant impact, the journey had begun before that as the Ring was almost the last of his operas I discovered. It was also one of the productions I’ve enjoyed most, The Crucible had the sense of shared journey and physical impact of long hours spent in a theatre in common.
But while musically Wagner and especially the Ring was more pushing against some boundaries and expanding on existing experience, the Crucible proved to be something else entirely.
It came about as an almost random decision to see some theatre at the suggestion of a friend. As I have mentioned before, I’ve seen far less theatre in my life and am much less familiar with plays, especially those which can be considered contemporary. I’d started dipping my feet back into theatre a couple of years ago in London and discovered that I was generally comfortable enough with the language so that it wasn’t a barrier at all in enjoying the plays, not even in what Shakespeare was concerned. I also found acting I had experienced on London stages natural and unselfconscious which started changing my previous impressions of live performances. As as you now know from my previous posts 2014 was the year when theatre provided me with some amazing experiences already, so I was revved up to see a play I hadn’t experienced before and also discover the Old Vic.
I can’t claim it was either the play or any actor in particular that made me buy the ticket, it was the element of novelty and my exploration of theatre in general. I suspect the combination of excitement, what you could probably call an open mind and the complete lack of knowledge about the piece (I knew of Miller but didn’t know the play) created the perfect conditions for a truly unique and surprising experience.
It was the start of a few journeys…
- A very personal one of remembrance and rediscovery of personal and family past lived under conditions which were in many ways similar to what the play depicts;
- One of reassessing cultural and social values, beliefs about what art means in society and as a consequence for me personally
- And discovery of a new passion for a particular actor, his fandom and all that this encompasses 🙂
All these things literally invaded my mind from the first night I saw the play, all at once I might add and it felt like I couldn’t turn either brain or emotions off. The reason I mentioned the Ring before was because it’s the only other thing that left me unable to sleep for many days and where I would not feel tired at all and wide awake, in a prolong state of emotional excitement? 😉 A gentle way of describing it I guess. Except this was much more. It wasn’t easy to process this and focus on daily things at the same time; but in a way you shut things off as much as you can during work and so on and it invades you back as soon as your mind is not otherwise engaged, ie mostly at night.
I’m not sure if it was a good or a bad thing to keep going back to it over the summer, I saw the first one early in July and the last one mid September (the last performance of the run). For my own sanity I was glad the run stopped there 😉 and some of the journeys I’d been on I felt I could now close off or at least I had come to some conclusions, while others would go on way beyond any run of theatre.
Having said that normality was not restored for long, as BOTFA kicked in and the Crucible came back in the cinemas in what proved to be an all to short time from the run in the theatre. And I ended up seeing it almost as many times as I had in the theatre. Christmas break I guess saved me from myself 😉
The first time I saw the Crucible it felt shocking to see on stage and hear spoken back at me discourses and the kind of rhetoric I had thought buried in the past, done with. It had all ended 20 years ago and truth be told I never looked or thought back at it. Life had moved on so much, but suddenly it all felt so real again, all lies and twisted logic, intimidating, frightening and very present. Everything inside me recoiled and was screaming ‘no!no!no!’. The oppression, the corruption fear brings in society, everything all too familiar. It may not have been religious in nature, but it certainly was very similar. The way it brings out the worst in people and highlights every character flaw, the way some people will play along and use oppression to achieve their own goals, the way everything is tainted by lies.
And it reminded me of all the other lies, the silences, the things that never got talked about and still aren’t, the fact that we had learned to live with it, with all the twisted ways and the whispers about the people who disappeared. It’s the bad things that came back first, I guess because they represented a majority of reality. But once I got over the first shock of recognition I went back to the last act, to RA’s Proctor and he reminded me of terrible stories unearthed once the turn had come, but also memories from my childhood, shreds that I had never pieced together at that age and things that happened around me but were not discussed . There had been a whole generation, that of my grandfather, who didn’t grow up with the lies, who knew a different life and never came to accept what had become. And I remembered how he used to listen to the radio at night, how he went to church on Sundays all his life although it was frowned upon, how him and his friends used to get together and talk, not whisper. Sadly he didn’t get to enjoy freedom for very long as right before the change the regime tore down the house he had built with his own hands and he never quite recovered from the pain. But this summer I’ve spent a lot of time remembering him and pieced together a different image than just that of a loving grandfather, an image of the man he was, different from the people who had been changed by living in a twisted world. He was a farmer by the way 🙂 Yes, John Proctor, or rather Armitage’s John Proctor helped me find my way back to him and they were in many ways similar. It has made me sad to remember many of the things in the past, but it made me feel mostly frustrated and disappointed in myself that I had not thought about them before, considered the consequences, not to judge (as who’s to judge what people end up doing for survival?) but to learn and realise that we have to accept the past and understand it to prevent it from ever happening again.
All of this didn’t happen over night 🙂 It was lucky I was able to go back again and again and see the play and think some more over a long period of time. And it was interesting to observe the reaction of the public to it. I still don’t know how people perceive it, how much of it feels real to them? Between Miller, Yael and all the actors I felt every night the story was real, playing right in front of me with the same intensity. I can’t imagine a better interpretation or one closer to what real life is like under such circumstances. I can only hope it impacted people who have been lucky not to experience anything similar in their lives and that it helped the audience understand a bit how oppression, fear work and how hard it is to fight against the flow. How precious the normality that we know is and how fragile it can be. Therein lies for me the power of art, to remind, to show, to make us feel things we otherwise wouldn’t, to say and do the things we can’t in normal life. It may sound a bit cliché but I felt the Crucible was one of those plays that really can change things, such as it was presented at the old Vic it had to be seen, it had to be felt. I don’t know if it is what they set out to achieve but I think it is what happened in the end.
The way Richard immersed himself in Proctor, all guns blazing, heart, skin and soul reminded me that where I lived among those who had spoken out and couldn’t really be silenced were many artists, writers, actors, singers. They are people who have a stronger inner fire I think, whose aspiration for the ideal does not drown as easily in normal life; whatever it is that drives them, they are able to gather our wishes and thoughts and express them and inspire us to follow. The often dare to do or say what we only think. We need them to remind us of the best in us I think. At least Richard’s Proctor reminded me of that and of many artists in my past who had made a difference where others couldn’t.
Which is why, even if I may never again experience something quite like this Crucible I owe it to myself to put myself out there, experience things, go see theatre, read books I haven’t, absorb art, let it challenge me, let it change me, think about it and talk about it 🙂 I’ve come to the conclusion after all the pondering that I’m anything but brave, but that as much as I can I will try not to let silence be an option in things that matter.
There was a lot more in the play that touched me and the personal and intimate level really connected with me too and I think the actors were as brave to plays this intimacy so real as they were convincing in the big gestures, it made them human, believable. Without the personal connections, the support, love and friendship the important gestures would not be possible either and this is also something I took away from the Crucible.
If I sound like I need a shrink after all this, don’t worry 😉 As the badge I’ve gotten from a dear friend as a gift on my dreaded birthday this year says: “friends! So much cheaper than a psychiatrist :-D”
I haven’t done the Crucible alone but with friends; I blame my Armitageitis on a friend, as I keep reminding her of, since she insisted we buy the tickets and another one gave me hers thus enabling more Richarding ;-); I owe the only face to face encounter to yet another dear friend . And I found new ones on the journey too, to share the Crucible with, and Richard and many other things. It’s lead to silly and fun things like standing in the cold for hours at the BOTFA premiere, to ruinous things like the many BOTFA viewings! (Rich, you owe me a pair of your chic socks!), to hopefully good things like reviving my blogging, to definitely great things in discovering I have more than a passing passion for photography 😉 and positive things like ‘spreading some love’. So thanks to all you lovely ones and the current readers and future ones, you’ve saved me a massive bill!
And make me smile every day 🙂
So, not an easy year but a busy one, a very intense one in fact, leaving me feeling energised and more purposeful and very enriched and very very grateful for it.
Thank you everyone who has been part of the journey and hope you’ll all be there for a while longer 🙂
Aaaah… before I forget, thanks Richard for inspiring me in so many ways! A pleasure bumping into you on the journey and hopefully see you soon 🙂
(well, in fact there is this BOTFA IMAX thing tomorrow.. but that’s for 2015 😉 )