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

Bull – The Space @ Niddry St.

Written by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Adam Tomkins

Runs at The Space @ Niddry St until August 24th (not 18th), 17.20pm

Bullying doesn’t stop when you hit adulthood – they just change up the tactics. With such a fine line between workplace harassment and genuine levels of manipulation, Mike Bartlett’s Bull examines the insane power of the spoken word, the ferociousness of human fulfilment and elements of elitist office politics.

A cull’, that’s how Bull refers to the difficult decision of ending someone’s employment. Eradication of the weak or even just the unfortunate? Three employees Tony, Isobel & Thomas await their fate. For Tony & Isobel, the choice is clear, Thomas has to go, and they will ensure he does.

Ravenous, though slick in their attack, both Tony and Isobel bring different tactics in a way to psych Thomas out, tripping over his insecurities. Tony, from the outset, is disgustingly smooth – a viper, coiling, biding its time. Jamie Stewart’s control is enviable, loathsome, treacherous and sneaky.

Teetering on the edge of capturing the role perfectly, genuine hate though eludes in moments. They’re a little too funny, too human to spit venom at. Certainly not from lack of trying, it takes Isobel a touch longer for us to begin to antagonise her, as Nayia Anastasiadou’sperformance seems irritatable rather than calculating, it’s only in the closing moments we gain a sense of the terror beneath, drawing blood with smirks.

Bartlett’s text is a staple of not only the Fringe but performing arts. Relentless in its aggressive demonstration of power play, it’s about tearing someone down onstage, yet still making your audience laugh. Its characters are sickening, manipulative, but hilarious. That is, except for Thomas.

Thomas is, in use of gross terminology, the ‘beta’ male. Far from innocent, one must note the misery in his performance, pathetic is a tricky angle – at the risk of having yourself, a performer, seen this way rather than your character. Ignoring this, giving Thomas a distinctly pitiful, but far from heroic portrayal, Jake McGarry finds a balance in which you want to run onto the stage and slap him into fighting back.

Adam Tomkins’ direction pits the three in chess-like manoeuvres. Every movement’s methodical, a counteract from another character’s step. There’s a dance element to it, elegant in their dedication to locking their prey into each trap set.

A fascinating look into the length’s people will go to for self-preservation, Bull is an eye-opening dark comedy which pushes the envelope in its characters likability. A series of humorous, though perhaps too identifiable performances make Arbery productions a must-see for those searching for an intelligent laugh while exploring the vices of human nature.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bull-1

Spring! @ Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
Scottish Ballet

Dextera Choreographer: Sophie Laplane

Dextera Composer: W.A. Mozart

Elite Syncopations Choreographer: Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Elite Syncopations Music: Scott Joplin & others

How precisely does one celebrate fifty years? By not simply paying tribute to your rich tradition of ballet but by evolving, showcasing how far as a company you have come. What’s more, you celebrate by showing us what can be done with another fifty – I only hope I kick around long enough to catch it. For now, though, Scottish Ballet’s Spring sets up what is likely to be a stellar anniversary.

Beauty personified is blown across the theatre in the mesmeric movements and colours of Sophie Laplane’s Dextera, our first piece. It’s a union fit for a celebration – Mozart’s various symphonies give the Orchestra a chance to innovate, re-imagine and fuse the classic with the freshness of the troupe’s expertise. Partnered with the maestro’s music, a unique choreography sees traditional ballet stirred in with abstract expression. It tackles a trend in the ballet circle, gender is explored throughout Dextera – not only the obvious but woven into the subtle, sublime and (one day) commonplace.

Upon high, a danseur is ‘gifted’ a single red glove, though not just any red. The glove is that shade which strikes a cauldron of intense emotions. It’s a powerful tone, controlling, dangerous and yet alluring. Upon fitting, the rapid movements involved are sharp, pointed and you can feel the momentum carried into the toes. These controlling hands carry the danseuses onto the stage. Like puppets, they are poised precisely as their male counterparts instruct. We’re guided through the more traditional stances of which most will be familiar, such as the plié but also stretched into the surreal everyday objects. When suddenly – another danseur is hoisted onto the stage in a similar manner to the women. Outfitted the same, he is manoeuvred no differently to the rest of the troupe.

As Laplane’s Dextera unfolds, the symbolism of control begins to birth a hope of equality of blindness in the casting. For just as the danseur in the role of the women carries himself strikingly, so too do any of the danseuses in reverse. Almost as if these positions are achievable irrespective of gender? As they obtain the red gloves themselves, through fooling, flirting or plucking – the comedic intensity grows. An organic kaleidoscope of limbs twisting, convulsing and as dance itself, always moving.

By the triumphant end, a shower of colours erupts over a costume piece by Elin Steele, whose creation deserves merit. Just as its musical partner Mozart, the tonal changes from bleak darkness to the glimmers of hope this is a piece which Scottish Ballet are no doubt proud to launch their 50th year with.

Choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, our second piece – Elite Syncopations continues with sparkling characterization, vivid costumes, all strung together with the carnival ragtime band. Older in conception, its bold use of colours amidst jazz styled 1920s motif places it alongside Dextera marvellously.

Humour as a ballet tool is nothing new. There is, however, such a delicious Scottish twang that it could be pulled off by none other than Scottish Ballet themselves. As the chaos of Dextera unfolds, the Benny Hill chases and exits are only eclipsed by Elite Syncopations segment ‘Tall and Short’. Performed by Eve Mutso and Jamiel Laurence you will find yourself in just as much awe as you will in stitches. Crafted in a silent era fashion, the comedic dance sees play with balance, height and expectations.

Scottish Ballet’s Spring proves that they stand on a world stage of ballet. We knew this. What they prove is their innovation. Their ability to sustain freshness, all the while providing an exceptional production is what sets them apart.

Review originally published for Reviewshub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/scottish-ballet-spring-festival-theatre-edinburgh/