Review: Hunky Hal and hilarious Falstaff in the RSC's Henry IV part 1
Review: Martin Freeman is Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios

Review: Richard Armitage in The Crucible at the Old Vic

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.

Richard Armitage's John Procter is a plain-speaking but just man who becomes more physical, the more desperate and unjust his situation becomes. He is the embodiment of his frustration and it is at times painful to watch, particularly as he gets so close to turning things around. He may at times feel dangerous: pushing, shoving, dragging and lashing out those around him, women and children included, but his unwavering pursuit of what is right has you firmly on his side.

Ultimately this is a horror story of human flaws, of ignorance and single mindedness and a stubborn desire to save face. Never have I wanted to yell at the characters on a stage quite as much from the Deputy Governor (Jack Ellis) who won't listen to reason to the ringleader Abby who defiantly won't tell the truth. It is a production that seeps tension and atmosphere from its very pores and leaves you breathless.

Armitage certainly didn't disappoint but then neither did the rest of the cast with Colley making a firm mark in her stage debut.

This is a long play - current run time is three and a half hours including interval - and it almost gets away with it but it will be its tone and raw passion that linger long after the tiredness of a late night has subsided.

It runs at the Old Vic until September 13.