Sometimes it pays to be living on this little island on the fringes of Europe. I am usually quite possessive of my adopted home, and like my hosts I react rather offended when Ireland gets thrown in with the UK.
No, we are not part of the Commonwealth. No, we do not use Pounds as our currency. And no, the Queen is not our head of state! But when it came to the screening of The Crucible in cinemas, I was quite happy for Ireland to be lumped with Britain: The Crucible on Screen debuted last night. And Guylty was there to relive her “summer of love”. In the absence of any (known) fellow Irish fans, the companion of choice was Mr Guylty. I’ll be honest. He had been rather hesitant dismissive when I initially requested his company for the screening. But I insisted that I wanted to share with him what had had me so enthralled in the summer, and he finally relented.
Despite the proximity to Britain, the one and only Dublin cinema TC was screened in was half-empty. The news of the summer’s best West End play had obviously not crossed the Irish Sea, otherwise the theatre-loving Dublin audience should’ve flocked to the cinema. Mind you, I think Armitage’s army was well represented there, judging by the number of *groups* of women. Fans? Check. I overheard a
vintage mature lady in the row behind me telling her companion she had seen the play in London. Fan? Check. Oh, and that group of German women, giggling when the shirt came off? Fans? Check, you bet!!!! Mr Guylty’s eyebrows had moved all the way up into his hairline – I could see feel that, even in the dark…
But to jump to the conclusion right at the beginning: Mr Guylty fully approved of the play, minus a few details which I incidentally have to agree with. But I’ll get to that in due course. As a precursor let me also add that this post will not be a review of the play as such. I have already reviewed it
at length ad infinitum after seeing the play for the first and the second time. I think we can establish that the play was a triumph. But how does it translate to a recorded version, shown on the big screen?
— Guylty Pleasure (@GuyltyPleasure) December 4, 2014
There you are – if you don’t want to read through all of my garbled comments on the screen version of TC, you can leave the post here.
Oh, you are still with me. Ok, well, this is the long version then. As a reward I’ll make this more conversational than my previous reviews and simply list all the things that stood out for me, good or bad.
The Crucible on Screen opens with an angle previously unseen: a view of the empty stage, seen from straight above. Much like what theatre goers saw when they walked into the Old Vic to attend the play in person, the chairs are haphazardly arranged on the otherwise empty stage. In the Old Vic that was a very powerful opening – an empty, backlit stage with scattered chairs – some upright, some fallen – which was slowly populated with the characters who assume position. Inventive – I loved seeing the stage from an angle that you cannot see it from in the theatre. Unfortunately this was the only time this angle was used. Which seemed a bit of a waste. I would have loved to see the mad chase of Abby and Proctor around the stage from above, or the falling ashes slowly sailing down from above. In the screen version, the camera angle then changes down to the audience as soon as the characters enter the stage. We get our first look at the characters, until the camera singles out Proctor who was the last character to remain on stage.
Then the action begins as Tituba’s silhouette walks backlit onto the stage, holding a steaming crucible. When this scene happened, I could have sworn that I smelt the herbal incense that had been used in the Old Vic to set the mood. I literally sat in the cinema wondering whether Robert Delamere and Co. had *not* been kidding when they were talking about Sniff-o-rama theatre. I even looked around whether anyone else was having the same sensation, or whether there was someone in the aisles waving some incense sticks around. I had a similar sensation later on when Elizabeth Proctor was stirring the stew. Put it down to some vivid imagination on my part.
While I had already appreciated the lighting in the stage version of TC, I felt it really came into its own in the screen version. The camera translated backlighting into deep black silhouettes, created sharp shafts of light in the incense-filled air (a device frequently used in photography to create a softer, moodier atmosphere), illuminated faces warmly with the light of a single candle, using shadow to characterise some of the characters on stage. The change between darkness and light set the scenes for the various locations in the play, and the audience stayed mostly hidden in the shadow.
In act 1 I was briefly annoyed because Proctor’s eyes were hidden in strong shadow that was created by strong light from above him. Surely Armitage couldn’t have a Neanderthal brow bulge that would only cause this problem for him? Until I noticed that none of the other characters suffered the same problem. Hence I decided it was deliberate – Digital Theatre couldn’t have overlooked that, could they? Maybe it was meant as a characterisation – in act 1 Proctor is still a bit of a shady character, volatile, faulty, an adulterer.
What a surprise the music was for me. While I was decidedly nonplussed by the use of music in the stage version, I really felt it added greatly to the screen version. No doubt much of that is due to me being conditioned to react to a soundtrack in the surroundings of a cinema. Watching a film, one expects music to set the mood, to add another layer and to underscore the action. Hammarton’s music did so beautifully. And with Dolby Surround Sound I actually felt what Armitage had recently described in an interview – that the music was designed to succinctly vibrate the seats of the audience and literally “shake them”. It really enhanced the experience for me here. But I stand by my verdict for the stage version – unnecessary mumbo-jumbo. Sorry.
The Scene Changes
Now here is finally some criticism. I did not like how DT dealt with the transitions between the acts. The first scene change occurs right after the opening tableau vivante when the girls carry in Betty Parris’s bed, Rev. Parris’s table and chair are set up, and the trap door on the stage is opened to act as a staircase. In the theatre this was beautiful to watch, as it was carefully choreographed and aesthetically executed. For the screen these scene changes were slowed down and edited to overlap and melt into each other. For me the transitions took unnecessarily long. In fact, they bored me. What is interesting on stage – since it is also a necessity – became a chore on screen where scene changes could theoretically be completely cut. Leaving them out would have been a shame as they were beautiful – but why draw them out so long and digitally change them? They were fine as they were – the dreamlike slo-mo really got on my nerves.
Mic Cables. They were really quite visible, but only on Proctor. And not because I honed in on him. I strained to see them on the other actors. But they were fully clothed at any point in the play. The mics were hidden in headdresses and turtleneck sweaters. With Proctor’s loose tunic that was not so easily done. To be fair, I think DT did their best to avoid angles where the cables were visible. But occasionally they were there – and a bit distracting.- Mr Guylty also found the “shirtless scene” distracting. Well, he used the word “gratuitous”. I pointed out to him that it wasn’t at all, but he didn’t really believe my reasoning. Hmph. I think he was extra critical for ulterior reasons.
In some respects the screened version of TC did not really correspond with what I had seen in the theatre. Of course there are always minor changes – a different gesture here, a stronger kiss there, more
or less tears. Probably depends on the individual actor and the day that’s in it. But what slightly put me (and particularly Mr Guylty) off was the amount of shouting. I remember this very clearly because it was a sensitive point that had been raised before I watched TC for the first time. Early reviewers had mentioned that a lot of shouting was going on – something that I found untrue when I attended the play myself. However, with Yael Farber re-focussing the cast before the recording, the shouting seems to have made a comeback. There were very few scenes where Proctor did *not* shout. I didn’t appreciate that at all. For starters, Armitage’s voice clearly shows the strain of many weeks’ acting. Secondly – sorry, can’t help it, but I find shouting a rather cheap way of attracting attention.
And that was so not necessary here. Because what the screen version excels at is the close-up of the characters. As appreciators of the Armitage art of micro-acting, this really played into our hands. It was extraordinary to watch Proctor’s feelings emanate from his eyes, his brows,his face. Even from the front row you wouldn’t have seen this. Tears sparkling in his eyes. Muscles flexing. The veins pulsing in his neck. Fear and fury in the actors’ eyes. It added a whole new perspective.
And hence I agree with Robert Delamere – screened theatre is an art form of its own. It is a hybrid of film and theatre, and it combines the best of both into a multi-layered theatrical experience that hits right at the centre of your emotions. It engages your senses and holds you transfixed in your seats. The only thing it can’t replicate is the feeling of involvement that the audience felt in the theatre. The screen ultimately remains a filter and a insurmountable boundary between reality and fiction. But if you can’t have the play, then the screened version is the next best thing!