Entertainment & Arts

Richard Armitage: Crucible is 'a full-body experience'

Richard Armitage Image copyright JOHAN PERSSON
Image caption Richard Armitage plays tragic hero John Proctor in The Crucible

After 12 years away from the stage, making his name in Spooks and The Hobbit, Richard Armitage is back in a "visceral" new production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible at the Old Vic.

Three days before starting rehearsals, Armitage drove from his home in New York to Danvers, Massachusetts,

Originally known as Salem Village, Danvers is most associated with the famous witch trials of 1692 - the inspiration for Miller's classic play that draws parallels with McCarthy's anti-communist investigations in postwar America.

Armitage, in his dressing room before a preview performance at the Old Vic, explains that the trip was useful preparation for his role as the Puritan tragic hero John Proctor.

"I got this sense that they were real people who had experienced this terrible contagion. These were a tough frontier people who had very little concept of what was beyond their small realm. Because of their staunch religious nature they truly believed it was the Devil that would come for them."

Armitage first encountered Proctor when he played a scene from The Crucible at drama school some 20 years ago.

"I had no idea it was a three-hour 'opera'... it resonates now and it will resonate in 10 years."

The Crucible, directed by Yael Farber, is the latest play to be presented in the round at the Old Vic.

Armitage thinks it is the ideal setting. "What a gift. It's a play about being witness to something incredible, about when society is in crisis and the horrific things people do to themselves.

"Someone in the audience looks across the space and sees another audience member experiencing the same event."

When I ask about the "visceral" nature of the production mentioned in the publicity blurb, Armitage grabs his phone and googles the definition.

Image copyright Johan Persson
Image caption The Crucible is being staged in the round at the Old Vic

"Viscus," he reads. "Any one of the organs situated within the chest or abdomen - the heart, the lungs, the liver. Not cerebral or rational. Having to do with more earthly feelings and emotions."

He puts his phone down. "For me it's a full-body experience. It's as much in my body and very much less in my head then I've ever been before in any role."

Armitage's previous stage work includes Hamlet at Birmingham Rep and Macbeth and The Duchess of Malfi for the RSC.

Malfi, his last major play, was 12 years ago. Since then he has made his name on TV in Spooks, North and South, and Robin Hood - and starred on the big screen as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit trilogy.

Even Armitage seems surprised at the length of his stage absence.

'I've really missed it'

"When Spooks finished I was looking for something to do. I come from a physical background so I wanted to find something which had all of the elements that excite me about theatre. It's taken me 12 years to find it.

"It's amazing to be back on stage. I've missed it. I've really missed it. Everything that I've collected along the way is relevant to the work that I'm doing in this."

Even The Hobbit? Armitage laughs and launches into an anecdote about how one of his lines in the second film, The Desolation of Smaug - "we will burn together" - is the same as one of his lines in The Crucible.

But how has being in such a massive franchise as The Hobbit changed his life?

"On a very pragmatic level - I'm signing a lot of photographs of Thorin. Everywhere."

"Where the mail comes from has changed. It always shocks me when letters come from the Philippines, South Korea and South America.

"It excites me that people are engaged from so many different cultures.

"I think we've yet to conquer North Korea in terms of cinema, but even that wouldn't surprise me."

The Crucible is in previews and opens at The Old Vic on Thursday, 3 July.

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