The Crucible – Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal Glasgow

Based on the play of Arthur Miller

Choreographed by Helen Pickett

Artistic Collaboration by James Bonas

Composition by Peter Salem

A prescient message of our time, the relevance of texts to a modern audience seems to change very little – only in so far as who finds themselves the target of today’s witch-hunt. Claustrophobic, illustrating the darkness lurking beneath a community turning in on itself, Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible is an evocative ballet which has expectations to live up to following the Edinburgh International Festival.

Few companies can encapsulate the source material, while still offering a reason to adapt, quite like Scottish Ballet. What happens with Arthur Miller’s iconic play, known to drama students, writers, academics and fans across the nation is nothing short of mesmeric sorcery. The suggestion that there was witchcraft at work here is applicable, but regrettably, we’re all too aware of those repercussions. 

It is, as in any production of The Crucible, the seductive entwining of Abigail and John Proctor which foreshadows the prospect of a production’s success. To find a measure of sexual passion, only just outweighing a genuine sense of romance, delivering a pas de deux of devastating betrayal against Proctor’s wife Elizabeth. Yet, there is no sight more painful than a ballerina attempting to engage without reciprocation. No matter how hurt, how Claire Souet laces her form against Barnaby Rook-Bishop, he remains in character, a husband realising his mistakes, even as she caresses, attempting to connect.

The proverbial marriage made in heaven – choreographer Helen Picket, together with theatre director/artistic collaborator James Bonas, concoct a profound connection with facial expression, storytelling and a heart of theatre with a soul of dance. Echoing a sense of community, capturing the dread of ‘fake news’, anxiety and the ease of truth distortion, it’s a production which reminds we haven’t come as far as would desire.

Inspirational, the richness in characterisation present onstage is impressive. All too often ballet companies find themselves at the mercy of silent performers – not Scottish Ballet. How, then, does one communicate a character as stoically earthy, immovable, as Danforth or the court? With staccato manoeuvres, the trio of danseurs – particularly Rimbaud Patron, communicate such weight, despite their featherfoot movements. Their presence in Salem is clear, their motives sharp, decisive and imposing. 

Stiflingly hypnotic, the en-pointe synchronisation for such minute movements is awe-inspiring – particularly for Abigail and troupe as they feign their naivety towards Danforth. Their feet become needles, stitching the fates of those they besmirch – weaving a soft foot across a blanket of lies. Delivering a superb solo, Katlyn Addison’s Tituba counters Souet’s characterisation of the manipulative Abigail. Fragile, fluid and open – Addison is engrossing to watch, drawing grief as we come to realise her fate, her swansong elevated through Peter Salem’s score.

Rarely is it this important for the composition to maintain pace with the movement on stage, Salem has outdone previous works with the construction of The Crucible’s score. The nuances in tone, rising in waves to balance the performance is down to a fine art, with astute, shrieking rasps of the string to emulate blinding panic, to a boundless, soft-sounding sense of love, struck with lashings of regret.

Jean-Claude Picard’s conduction this evening is effective in control. Crossing a variety of genres, in an intense ménage of an almost urban tribal mash-up of ballet and street-dance. Encircling, taunting one another further – shedding their gowns as their morality, compassion escapes them, Soeut leads a dance troupe as the dancers grow in fever-pitch which is rightfully as bombastic as the score. With a graceful transition of the woodland serving as a backdrop, it stands as a stand-out of the production.

These backdrops – a combination of designers Emma Kingsbury and David Finn brilliance, range in their visage as unforgiving stone walls to the unrelating hypocritic ‘comfort’ of the church’s light. Flynn’s toying with shadow, the puppet wolves Souet and crew fantasise descending on the Proctor house are a stark, entrancing reminder of the callousness behind Abigail’s smile. Equally as inventive, Kingsbury’s costume is period-appropriate, offering significant authenticity, emphasising aspects such as Danforth’s shoulders, the restrictiveness of Reverend Hales top-piece or the flowing, effortlessly shed gowns of the girls.  

So, it is a providence the thing is out – Scottish Ballet’s the Crucible is everything you may have read, but everything more. This is a pinnacle of the companies’ 50-year celebration, a clear illustration of the talent, dedication and genius which are repaid thrice fold in appreciation, enjoyment and respect. However you seek a ticket, even if you have to dance with the devil, chances are you’ll be forgiven.

Runs at Theatre Royal Glasgow until September 28th – then touring Scotland – tickets available from Scottish Ballet: https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/crucible

Photo Credit – Jane Hobson

A Taste of Honey – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Written by Shelagh Delaney

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Tickets Available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey

It might seem grim up north, or this could be the skewed view thanks to a series of kitchen-sink realism pieces emerging throughout Britain in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A prime example is that of Shelagh Delaney’s gritty, but enriching play A Taste of Honey.

Touching on the subjects of gender, race, sexual orientation and family, Delaney struck a flame in the depiction of the vulnerabilities and strengths of working-class women. Returning for a new touring production, before settling into the Westend for the first time in 60 years – Edinburgh can regain a taste of this bitter-sweet production.

Always one for a flit, Helen and daughter Jo find themselves in their new louse-ridden abode. To describe their relationship as tense would be understating the rapier-like slashes, they take at one another. There’s a unique Northern skeleton to the characters, how they display a love/hate relationship like no other. Helen, Jodie Prenger, does what she can for Gemma Dobson’s Jo – but of course, that won’t stop her desire for a few toddy’s and suitors. 

Abandoning Jo once again, Jo finds herself besotted and naive to the world around her, and the advances of sailor Jimmy. Pregnant, unwed and living with gay best friend Geoffrey, Delaney’s piece is early commentary, though growing stale rather than advancing a narrative or tweaking the overall depictions. 

Dobson’s vigorous encircling of those she chooses to do battle with – be this her mother Helen or caddish booze-soaked Peter (Tom Varey), offers just enough youthful brass insecurities to maintain a naivety, heightening the visceral comments from her mother. Varey’s Peter, verminous in approach, conducts the character with an air of flea-ridden sleaze, helping raise Prenger’s role away from antagonistic.

Prevalent for her talents in musical theatre, the tumultuous respect for Prenger as a performer is promptly growing from her origins and into a realm of dramatic integrity. Her take on Helen is far livelier than previous incarnations of Delaney’s venomous Helen. Notably the film version with Dora Bryan, with Prenger’s character evolving from comedic vaudeville villain into a complex mother who shows signs of the sharp cruelty within. Bijan Sheibani takes a notion with Prenger’s direction, attempting to maintain a virtue without vilifying – though Prenger knows precisely where to twist the knife.

The atmosphere is a sharp point for A Taste of Honey, though sought uniquely. With blurring lines of a musical score, it’s easy to see the influences of a theatre director with a background in Opera. Sheibani conducts the stage with an infusion of this score, Prenger lending her superb vocals to the show’s opener. As she stands, cigarette in hand, bottle to one side – David O’Brien’s jazz trio supply an excellent underscore live onstage, entwining the cast.

Pistols at dawn are put aside, relying on verbal assaults for the make-up of the production. Hildegard Bechtler’s set shifts itself, accordingly, transforming Helen & Jo’s flat into an open coliseum for the two to do battle. The general division of the piece is a conversation between two characters, from Jo and her mother to Jo and her lover to the domestic bliss with Geoffrey, and reverting to Jo and Helen. What we gain is a demonstration of Delaney’s volatile language, concealing itself beneath the humour.

Straying from the monochromatic drear of Delaney’s post-war drama, Sheibani’s production tries to brighten the room – not overstating the comedy, but in moments, leaning away from the emotion. The result is a series of encounters, flourishing when able, incorrect in reading the tone on occasion. A Taste of Honey seems unwilling to define itself by its roots as a kitchen sink drama, choosing instead to develop with time – admirable, but requiring a touch extra care in how it develops for new audiences.

Runs until September 28th 2019. Tickets available from Capital Theatres at: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey

Photo Credit – Marc Brenner

Eye of the Storm – The King’s Theatre

Writer & Director: Geinor Styles

Music & Lyrics: Amy Wadge

There’s fascination over storms, an unparalleled force of nature. Harnessing its capabilities could provide answers to issues of global warming and fossil fuel usage. As Greta Thunberg rallies thousands of strikes, walkouts and peaceful demonstrations across the globe – Geinor Styles’ Eye of the Storm places environmentalism as the casing of her story concerning a young carer who has dreams as colossal as the task of fixing this world.

Just off the green valleys of South Wales, Emmie is the primary carer for her mother, Angela. Struggling to balance school, her family and homework, Emmie has ambitions in studying storms, figuring out their anatomy. Rosey Cale is hypnotic in terms of her vocals, which command attention in her control, range and projection. Emmie is young, capable but Cale captures the fragmentary moments where even the strongest of us struggle.

The potential for an insightful production on often forgotten communities, focusing on the lives of young carers and their dreams is staggeringly vital theatre. Comprising multiple workshops with young carers, Eye of the Storm is a composite of their feelings, hopes and frustrations whipping into a colourful, musical frenzy. Theatr na nóg offers their story – yet not only theirs, but to shine a light on the talents of Welsh theatre, something all too relegated to the South of the nation.

Concerning Amy Wadge’s lyricism, many of the numbers have a regrettable similarity, though the duet between sisters Emmie and Karen is wrought with powerful subtext and balanced vocals. The live band, are on form, smoothly transitioning between instrumental to the acting role.

In the role of half-sister Karen, it’s easy to vilify the relation who isn’t providing care, instead, working on their own life, but Caitlin McKee maintains an identifiable presence, conveying the pressure of realising she needs to do more but worries she can’t. As the initial confrontations pass, McKee’s role extends in understanding these complex relationships usually criminally hidden or forgotten.

Suffering is Dan Bottomly’s Walt, the physics teacher who is in education for all the wrong reasons. Concerningly, what first appears to be a commentary on unengaging teachers, is instead left abandoned as a character who is difficult to read, has an odd ‘redemption’ arc and has strong vocals which are put to poor use. Style’s direction throws in curveballs for this character, in particular, we’re unsure of whether this misogynistic teacher who refuses to educate a young girl is a redeemable hero due to his closing actions, or just a bit of an arse.

Noteworthy in attempt, bringing the plight of climate change to the stage is a tremendously admirable cause, though a cautionary warning for the budding scientists in the audience – there’s less a stretch of dramatic imagination and more a hodgepodge of Wikipedia science.

Allow the rain to wash over you, let the wind ruffle your hair and open your eyes to the lives of the 700,000 young carers across the UK. Facing the problems of the world valiantly, Eye of the Storm rages itself headfirst into the oncoming tempest, failing to watch for the occasional pitfall. In attempting to promote a Welsh community, with an environmental message linking to the concerns of young carers, Style’s piece spreads itself thinly at the edges.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/eye-of-the-storm-the-kings-theatre-edinburgh/