Richard Armitage is John Procter in The Crucible at the Old Vic
Have only ever seen the first half of The Crucible. Not, I hasten to add, because I wasn't enjoying it but because it was an outdoor theatre, on a cool evening and I was simply too cold to stay for the second half.
However, it wasn't just finding out how Arthur Miller's metaphorical play about the Salem witch trials panned out that had me sitting on the stage at the Old Vic last night, it was also finally getting to see Richard Armitage in a play. Bit of a fan you see.
From the moment you walk in to the auditorium you know that this is going to be a grim and atmospheric production. The Old Vic's ornate decoration has been obscured by grubby wall hangings, the stage a rough grey wooden flooring, and the set equally austere and jaded looking. The lighting has a sickly tinge and stage smoke hangs in the air.
Tituba (Sarah Niles), the village minister's Barbadian servant appears with a smoking urn, circling the stage in a slow rhythmic steps, muttering a low incantation which adds a spooky soundscape to the setting. And from there the tension steadily grows.
When young Betty (Marama Corlett) lies "possessed" on her bed her body contortions are like something from a horror movie and Abby (Samantha Colley) is a vicious and convincing bully that sets the town on a road to hysteria and calamity.
This is play of raw emotions, where rational thought and contemplation turn into anger and violence almost on the turn of a heel. The atmosphere constantly fluctuates between strained and shrill.