Originally published on Reviews Hub
The Bristol Old Vic has been on fire in recent months. Following the scintillating Pink Mist, the venue has recently announced plans for its 250th anniversary that would be the envy of any theatre in the world, yet alone a regional playhouse. Before that, though, they are tackling arguably Arthur Miller’s greatest work, The Crucible. Kris Hallett spoke to principle actor Daniel Weyman.
For BOV Artistic Director Tom Morris, this is just one of a number of productions of this play coming up with a competing one currently playing at the Royal Exchange Manchester and with productions in Edinburgh and on Broadway to come next year. So, on first meeting Daniel Weyman, I pondered what it is about The Crucible that has caught the zeitgeist?
He is quick to find parallels with today’s headlines. “Look at cases like Paul Gambaccini; the problem the police have now with these historic cases is there is no forensic evidence What they find they need now is for people to corroborate the evidence. If two people who aren’t connected come up with similar stories, so much the better because of course there is no physical evidence.
“Look at the number of witch hunts we see in the media: Sepp Blatter, who knows if he is guilty, everyone clearly thinks he’s guilty, but who knows if he actually is? I don’t have the facts, I’m just going on what other people think. Look at that case in Bristol [he is referring to the situation with Christopher Jefferies was originally arrested for the murder of architect Joanna Yates and had his face plastered over the papers before he was even charged], we look at his face in the paper and we think he did it.
“There have been various different times in life where we have seen a higher propensity for witch hunts when there is a high level of poverty in the world and a greater imbalance of equality.’’ He talks about how the supernatural clearly still affects our psyche “clearly those puritans who went to Salem believed in their God, maybe today there is less religious beliefs but we all have our supernatural resonances, whether it’s believing in fate or if you don’t believe in religion, thanking God for things, if you think about it rationally these are strange things.’’
Weyman is one of those actors whose face is familiar even if the name isn’t. His work has taken him around the country in a number of adventurous stage works but, as is usually the case, he is probably best known for his television role as Adam Wainwright in Foyles War. He is an interviewer’s dream; articulate, thoughtful and clearly passionate about the work. “I mean one always wants to get excited about the play one does, but with this play you can’t help it. The more we work on this the deeper it gets and the more resonance we find. It’s so complex, so rich. The only other writer to compare it to is Shakespeare.’’
Talking to him about his character, Reverend Hale, you can’t help but see some of the similarities that convinced Morris to cast him in the role. There is something focused in his manner, an attitude that inspires trust and confidence in him on first meeting. He mentions the reference points he has been given are of showmen, a Derren Brown of Salem as it were.
“Few characters in the play cross a belief line. Hale starts very evangelical, he’s a theologian, very high powered. This man is at the top of his game, but interestingly he possesses the mind of a scientist and the body of a very spiritual man.
“He tries to answer the things he finds with spirituality rather than science. He lights the blue touch paper and about half way through he realises the fireworks he has let off may not be the right thing, people are dying and he begins to realise the answers may not be those that he thought it was. He starts to try to change the world, but he finds the world is now so infected that it can’t change.”
I speak to him in the second week of rehearsals, while there were still a number of weeks to go so details of what form the play will take are still quite hazy. “The fun thing in rehearsals,” he says, “is imbuing our performances with musicality and physicality. Tom is working with George (Mann – associate director) on the way we use the muscularity of our bodies to tell text. So what can we expect of this version of the play?
“We have people on stage, they’re going to be close. The audience on stage will be seen by those in the auditorium and vice versa. Who is on view when? It’s a major preoccupation in the piece. What Tom and George are trying to do is discover this play of spells; there is magic throughout the piece, Miller has written magic, his characters talk about it. What we’ll gain through our way of working with its focus on movement and text is a more piercing view, language is cerebral, the physicality is emotive, the sandwiching of the two things will hopefully make the work very impactful.’’
Talk moves to the fear at the heart of the play and he mentions talking to one of the young girls on the first day of rehearsal and suggested going into the woods to cast their own spells. And what happened, I ask. He laughs. “She said: no f*cking way! What happens if we raise something? I love that we can still terrify ourselves like that. The joy of theatre is that it allows the audience to be scared. We can create anything in the theatre. Miller has clearly created something that taps into fear. When the girls see something that only they see, we know the audience will look, but the question is: what will they see there?’’
On that note, he shakes himself off and talk drifts off into things to do and places to eat in Bristol. It’s clear, though, that the darkness at the play’s centre has already taken a grip on him. Audiences at Bristol Old Vic in the next month may soon feel the same.