Dancing at Lughnasa

The new production at the Olivier is very good. I’ve read criticism of the stage, but I thought the way it combines inside and outside with a real sense of perspective was very clever and effective. The cast, featuring Siobhán McSweeney and Ardal O’Hanlon (as Father Jack) is very strong. The play itself is a vivid slice of life with strong and interesting characters, living complex lives that are just about to break down. It is clearly about memory, with the protagonist narrating his life in retrospect and providing the voice for his otherwise invisible younger self. At the end of the day, though, I don’t know what it tells us beyond what any bit of a life might do. To mention a small reservation, I wasn’t sure about Father Jack’s accounts of the beliefs of the Ugandans he lived among: are they accurate or just invented? But an interesting evening.

Crucible in the Rain

We went to see The Crucible at the Olivier. It’s a great production, with strong performances from all the cast. The stage was surrounded by a sheet of artificial rain which was used like a curtain – I’m not really sure why. Very effective use was made of the deeper part of the stage, which would occasionally be lit to show a little scene, someone approaching, or the accusing girls in niches like saints.

What did strike me was that although it is unquestionably deserving of its place as a classic drama, the play would get some criticism if presented to a modern writer’s workshop. It opens with a big slab of straightforward exposition, just spoken direct to the audience: all of that would probably be deleted by a current editor. One of the best episodes in the story is how Giles Corey refuses to plead and chooses to be crushed to death, knowing that this way his estate will pass to his sons, whereas if he were convicted of witchcraft it would be confiscated. Miller throws that away, having it merely described in brief. (He wishes, of course, to focus on John Proctor’s agonising over whether to provide a false confession that will save his life.)

Some of the force of the play is arguably lost because on Miller’s account there really was some witch stuff going on: some of the girls did dance naked, help conjure the dead, and drink (chicken) blood. At the close Tituba and Sarah Good are shown eagerly waiting for the Devil to come and take them. So it seems the authorities are sort of right about the crime, merely pinning the blame on the wrong people.

Finally, things are wrapped up with another slice of exposition – what happened afterwards? It dissipates some of the impact of the deaths, especially Proctor’s, if we go on to hear about remarriages and compensation.

Whatever you think of that, it’s a great play with many memorable passages, and this is a great production.