The Crucible

I've been neglecting my blog over the past week or so, mainly for the aforeposted reason that I have been writing about nothing but the Isle of Gigha. The end is in sight, however, and last week I permitted myself a small break to go and see a production of the Crucible, by the new National Theatre of Scotland, which was touring, in collaboration with various community groups. Besides, an old friend was in it, one of the best radio producers I ever had the good fortune to work with, an award winning director who the BBC, as is their inexplicable habit, made redundant some years ago. Having returned to his old profession of acting, he is doing rather well, and his performance as Giles Corey shone out on this occasion. I love the play. Not, mind you, that it is a bundle of laughs, as my husband remarked somewhat sourly, when someone asked him if he had enjoyed the show. Enjoyed is not quite the word.
As for the production, however, I'm not sure. I saw a youth theatre production of this same play some years ago, and although it was an ambitious project, it worked extremely well. The kids were committed and there was something very moving about seeing the whole thing done by a company whose oldest member couldn't have been more than 19 years old. But this mixture of professional and amateur was problematic and the main stumbling block was the play itself. It is quite impossible to treat the Crucible like a "devised drama" or "text", the theatrical buzz word these days, and an alarming concept for playwrights everywhere. Sometimes it seems to me as if we don't write plays any more. We draft out texts for other people to manipulate at will. A text can be altered to suit a production and a cast which involves a mixture of talents. It can result in a worthwhile project, and of course it involves "inclusion" - another buzz word and one that is always good for a few more thousands in funding. (Or am I being exceptionally cynical here?)
On this tour, the main parts were taken by professional actors, with the so called minor parts being allotted to amateurs from the various venues. I don't know where they were recruited from, but on the whole and in the production I saw, they were not particularly competent, so maybe were simply volunteers.
But the real stumbling block is that there are no minor roles in Miller's plays. Each character, each scene is a finely crafted part of some astonishing whole. One of the kids in the audience, sitting behind me, said to her friend "So who IS the main character?" and I sensed the dead hand of Standard Grade or Higher preparation in there, with teachers posing unanswerable questions.
Whenever one of the "community" participants forgot his lines, stumbled over words, or gabbled incomprehensibly, our suspension of disbelief was broken, a large gap appeared in the production, and the play started sliding into it. Or at least that was the way I felt.
The audience, though, were appreciative, so maybe I am being too hard. And one of the nicest things about the whole evening, was the way in which the very young audience which consisted in part of large numbers of school students, who were obviously studying the play at some level, behaved so immaculately. They were interested, absorbed and much more attentive than most adult audiences of my experience.