Lindsay Harvey, marketing administrator at Picturehouse, interviewed theatre director Yaël Farber ahead of next week’s cinema screenings of The Old Vic’s The Crucible.
Richard Armitage stars in Arthur Miller’s classic American drama, based on Salem’s infamous witch trials, brought vividly to life in this visceral new production.
LH: What are the significant differences between The Crucible and your previous productions to date?
YF: I have not directed anyone else’s writing but my own for over a decade. To direct from the basis of a masterpiece is another process entirely, and a privileged one. Every project is different for me, and so The Crucible – in other ways – is no more or less different. It is, however, the largest cast I have ever worked with. And my first British cast.
What made you want to direct a production of The Crucible?
I have loved this text since I was a 13-year-old schoolgirl. It has been a lifelong passion for me to have the opportunity to bring it to the stage. The fact that I could do it with some of the UK’s finest actors and creatives, in a venue like the Old Vic – when they were able to offer the space in theround – is a conglomeration of different gifts I could have scarcely hoped for – in addition to Miller’s genius. This entire process has been an extraordinarily blessed one.
How do you think your production differs from other productions of The Crucible?
That’s hard to say, as there have been many, and each director brings their own vision. In this vision – I wanted to serve, at as full a velocity as I could, the heat and beauty and tension of Miller’s text. I think this text has been overexposed due to its inclusion in most school curricula around the world. I am grateful for that (it’s how I discovered this text), but it leads to a deadening of the material. It’s a highly complex, extremely nuanced text – with a great beauty of language. One can fall into the trap of glorifying the language or glorifying the hysteria. I always come back to all of these being necessary essentials that need their due time and intense attention from the artists. But most of all this is about the sweep of the story.
It’s an intense play, and your production is particularly visceral. Did spending that much time with the characters and the text affect you?
Not more than any project affects me. Which is to say: utterly. I enter into a period of completedevotion to what I do, and am profoundly absorbed by the world we create. But I have a very real task to achieve. I have to fly – and land the plane. As a director, one asks for the trust of one’s team. One asks that they be in the ‘yes’ on all fronts. Being the discerning eye is very sobering. Whilst one must be immersed utterly in the world we are creating, there is a distance kept in order to keep the larger arc in view. This prevents any complete disappearance into the material – because directing is a highly creative, but equally a brutally practical, responsibility.
What message were you trying to get across to the audience with The Crucible?
Miller needs no help other than to set it all up in such a way that you clear the channel and allow the full force of what he wrote to come through. The messages are his. I wanted to make sure that the audience understood that Miller was saying: the folk of Salem are us. We are them. There should be no smug judgement or sense of superiority over them. Miller was not writing about an anecdotal chapter in history for our mere curiosity. He was illuminating the times he lived in (the McCarthy era), and he likewise illuminates ours – through this allegory. I knew that our priority was to make these folk stare out at us from across the centuries and meet our gaze with recognition. The Proctors struggling to heal their marriage could be any couple today. This was what I would suggest was my task, in order to facilitate Miller’s messaging.
How did you go about casting the production? Did you have Richard Armitage in mind for John Proctor?
I had no one in mind at the outset. I watched some of Richard’s television work and asked to meet him. It was in that first meeting that I knew I had found our Proctor. I had the extraordinary help of Maggie Lunn (the casting director), who gathered a line-up of actors for me to meet when casting the rest of the company. Not being from London or the UK, I know almost no one in this theatre community. I was meeting everyone fresh. I made my selection from the people Maggie brought in to meet me. I did not have a clear idea of any actor – but I knew exactly what I wanted for each character. It has to work that way. The actors serve the character. Not the other way around. One of my priorities in casting was to have an adventurous, open and curious company. My rehearsal process is not conventional – and anyone attached to a comfortable process was going to be very uncomfortable in the room with me. With this mandate and a very clear vision of each character in mind, I was able to select this exceptional group of people for this production.
How does it feel to be part of a cinema event knowing that thousands of people will be able to watch your production in cinemas all over the UK and Ireland?
It’s a very special and rare treat for a director. We are so used to our passion and work dissolving into the ether after closing night. To not have the production ‘ghost’ on us is a wonderful and exciting thing, to be sure. It’s a very different medium, and I am grateful for the exceptionally delicate handling of the material by Digital Theatre and Rob Delamere, and the way they have made me included and intrinsic to the process.
The Old Vic’s The Crucible will be screened at Picturehouse cinemas from Thursday 4th December, for selected dates throughout December.