Mar 6, 2015
David Gordon • New York City
In the summer of 2014, South African director Yaël Farber became the toast of London with her revelatory revival of Arthur Miller's seminal drama The Crucible for the Old Vic Theatre. Staged in the round, with the scent of incense filling the auditorium, Farber's three-and-a-half-hour production starred the stage and screen actor Richard Armitage as John Proctor, Miller's tragic hero, whose extramarital love affair with a young woman leads to the deaths of several people amid the Witch Trials of 1692 Salem.
For Armitage, whose screen roles include Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain, in Peter Jackson's Hobbit film trilogy, and an upcoming six-episode arc as Francis Dolarhyde, a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy, on the television series Hannibal, it was an experience that pushed him to his limits, both as a person and as an actor. And now, more people will get to see it.
Digital Theatre, the U.K.-based organization that partners with leading West End theater companies to capture live performances for screen broadcast, has added The Crucible to its collection, and it will be available for download starting March 17 at 9am (EST). On a break from shooting an episode of Hannibal in Toronto, TheaterMania caught up with Armitage to discuss the release and his experiences during the filming of a live stage show.
Can you describe the production from your perspective?
Yaël describes her work as "visceral." She's into not making an audience feel uncomfortable, but she likes to drag them forward in their seats. The theater was in the round and she worked hard to conceal the beauty of the Old Vic. She covered the theater with cloth so there were no distractions in the room. It was quite a stark, austere look, even down to the women's costumes. They were trussed up to the neck. It revealed the beauty of the face and actually removed any sort of sensual or sexuality, which was reflective of that tough Puritan existence. It had a very abrasive feel to it. There was burning incense [live onstage]. Sound was very present. There was a pitch that the composer found that could make the seats vibrate with what they call a sonic pulse. I feel like the play had an accusatory feel to it.
What was your first thought when you heard that The Crucible would be filmed for Digital Theatre?
I was hesitant, actually. I wasn't that familiar with Digital Theatre's work. It was late in the run when the decision was made. We had nine five-star reviews and were full every night. There was such an urge for people to see it, [who] couldn't see it. I was very pleased that it would have an afterlife. One of the conditions I had in allowing it to be filmed was that Yaël be part of the edit, because what she was seeing, and what she wanted the audience to be seeing, was very specific. She storyboarded the entire play, so her presence in the filming of it is very acute.
What was the filming process like?
It was simple for us. It was shot over three nights with six or eight cameras in the theater in different positions. Luckily, because the play was in the round, it was easy to get the reverses in certain shots, and you could cross-shoot across the stage. The only difficulty was that we were wearing radio mics and it was difficult for me, because there's a part where my character is washing and to conceal a mic on a bare torso is virtually impossible. We didn't want to put it on clothing. Those technical things were tricky. I was conscious that the audience would be aware of the filming, but of course they weren't. It was very sensitively approached.
How was it to finally watch it?
I had my arm twisted into watching it in a movie theater, because I really didn't want to see it. I'm glad I did. They did a good job. One of the things that surprised me was how much my face had changed from the first day of rehearsal to that point twelve weeks into a run. My face had become weary and weighed down with his troubles. All of the triggers I found during the run were retriggering me in the cinema. It was like a catharsis going through it.
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