Theater News Online
free issue
London Theatre Reviews
NY Theater Reviews
LTN Recommendations
NYTN Recommendations
Book Reviews
Movie Reviews
London Theatre Archives
NY Theater Archives
Latest New York News
Latest London News
NY News Archives
London News Archives
Peter Filichia's Monday Quiz
Dining and Travel
London Theatre Listings
NY Broadway Listings
Off-Broadway Listings
London Tickets
Advertise with us

Give a Gift


Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Old Vic


  Richard Armitage and Anna Madeley/ Ph: Johan Persson

It is dark; a storm is gathering. Lanterns and firelight flicker. Later, black ash will rain from the heavens, and men and women will fall to the ground on all fours, like beasts. This is Arthur Miller’s great 1953 tragedy of society swung off its hinges and careering into madness, staged in the round with blazing intensity by the brilliant South African director Yael Farber. Sparing us nothing, Farber brings us a vision that grips and terrifies, resounding with echoes of modern countries run amok and acted, by a fine cast, with unforgettable ferocity.

Samantha Colley, in her professional debut, is astonishing as Abigail Williams, former servant to the Salem farmer John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth, and Proctor’s ex-lover. Eyes burning and ferociously intelligent, she is a creature of appetite and spite; easy to imagine her cajoling the Barbados-born slave, Tituba (heart-rending Sarah Niles) into performing a nighttime ritual that might restore Proctor to her; frighteningly easy, too, to believe her when she terrorises into compliance the young girls who danced with her in the moonlit woods, with her blood-chilling promise, “I can make you wish you’d never seen the sun go down.” Yet Colley also reminds us that Abigail is only 17 – scarcely more than a child, and one whom Proctor is guilty of exploiting. He has few qualms about calling her a whore, and declaring that their congress took place among his animals in the barn. She flies at him with a wild velocity and hunger, wrapping her legs and arms about him, her long, dark hair streaming. When he rejects her, her lips turn down and tremble with the hurt and petulance of a little girl. But she is, of course, fatally dangerous, and when she leads her legion of young women to court, they do indeed look diabolical, unreachable in their ecstasy of furious passion, beyond words, beyond reason.

As Proctor, Richard Armitage is ideal physical casting: a tall, virile, handsome man with an authoritative presence and a sensuality that is evident in his love of nature as well as his desire both for Abigail and for his understandably unreceptive, wronged wife Elizabeth (Anna Madeley). Coming home ravenous for the unsatisfactory meal Elizabeth has cooked for him, he surreptitiously adjusts the seasoning with an epicure’s precision. When she speaks of preparing it, it’s as if she is unwillingly serving up her own flesh. “It hurt my heart to strip her,” she says of the rabbit in the stew he’s chewing. “She’s tender?” It’s a tense precursor to what will develop into an incendiary row that ends only when it is interrupted by the arrival of Reverend Hale (Adrian Schiller), come to take the innocent Elizabeth to prison in chains, away from her home, her husband and her children. Here, the scene feels almost unbearably cruel.

If the tormented Madeley and mesmerising Colley are never less than riveting, Armitage’s performance needs much more variety of tone. He delivers almost every line at a pitch of rasping, shouty fervour, which sometimes sounds strained and leaves him little room for manoeuvre as the drama swells and increases in its savagery. Otherwise, the performances are faultless and crammed with expressive detail. Schiller’s arrogant Hale is poignantly transformed by the play’s final scenes into a barefooted, ashen-faced penitent, appalled at what he has helped to bring about. And Jack Ellis as the chief prosecutor, Danforth, is razor-keen and awful in his unshakeable vanity and utter self-belief. As Mary Warren, Abigail’s replacement in the Proctor household, who struggles to find the courage to testify against the girls, Natalie Gavin is thrillingly conflicted. Ann Firbank as the elderly midwife Rebecca Nurse, serene and dignified all the way to the gallows, is devastatingly moving.

Tim Lutkin’s lighting design suggests both the cold light of truth and the flickering of hellfire, and at one point the dancing shadows that ripple across the ceiling play such tricks on the eye and mind that it almost seems some evil creature is lurking there, sharp of tooth and claw, ready to swoop down. The knotted headdresses worn by the women are redolent of any of a number of troubled African states. The combination of music and of the girls’ dancing call to mind the Taliban. Farber wisely leaves those analogies to us to make. And she leaves us, too, with heads full of horror and nightmare. Shattering.


SUBSCRIBE TO New York Theater News
SUBSCRIBE TO London Theater News

Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.

Wine, Fruit, and Gourmet Gift Baskets.
Privacy Notice   |   Front Page
Copyright © All Rights Reserved.