Tuesday, 2 February 2016

John Dove - The Crucible

When John Dove talks about his forthcoming production of The Crucible at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, he doesn't talk about Arthur Miller's twentieth century masterpiece in terms of its plot. This is despite Miller's ever-pertinent post-McCarthyite fable of seventeenth century witch trials in the American backwater of Puritan-led Salem. Nor does he mention the forbidden dalliance between John Proctor and Abigail Williams that drives the play. Or how that opens up things previously left unspoken in a repressed community that is eventually torn apart by prejudice and a fear of the unknown encouraged by the equally terrified authorities.

Rather, Dove talks about the attempted destruction of the NHS and the welfare state by those in office. He talks about how people today need to look after each other more, and to question those in power more than once every four years when an election is pending. And he talks about the sheer human heart behind the play, just as he has done when directing five other of Miller's works at the Royal Lyceum over the last decade.

“It felt right that we do The Crucible now,” Dove says, sitting in the Royal Lyceum's Grindlay Street rehearsal rooms at a wooden desk littered with pages from a Bible that will be used to pass judgement in the play. “It comes down to the same thing with Miller all the time. Regardless of age and regardless of place, he tends to find people who are not kings and queens, or dukes and lords, or prime ministers and politicians. He's not interested in them at all. He's much more interested in the janitor, the ordinary person, and he says if you look hard enough, take a moment and put them under enough pressure, you will find that these people have a king and a queen and a god in them, only we never look.

“I think it's in Death of A Salesman where the wife says that attention must be paid to these people, and the problem is that attention isn't being paid, and I feel that absolutely emphatically, and that's the reason I like doing Millers. I think if attention was paid, we wouldn't be in the state that we're in at the moment, with the NHS being underfunded, the tax situation being as it is, and proportional representation being as it is.

“The problem today is the problem they had at the time the play is set. The lawmakers are held to account by us basically once every four years. Other than that they do what they want, and that isn't a system that is tenable any longer. It doesn't work, and Miller, in his heart, was saying the same thing. He took the McCarthy trials as an example, but he was saying it was wholesale, and it is. It's not good enough, and I think the world has to change. I do.

“If every premier league footballer put down one week's wages, you might find that it could pay for three NHS nurses for a year. Nobody has enough opportunity for real collective responsibility, and that's what Miller is asking for in his plays, and that's why I'm doing them.”

Dove's softly spoken but impassioned words could apply just as readily to his productions of Death of A Salesman, A View From The Bridge and All My Sons, as well as his look at lesser known Miller plays, The Price and The Man Who Had All The Luck. As an associate artist of the Lyceum, such a sense of morality could apply too to his takes on John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, two plays by Brian Friel, Living Quarters and Faith Healer, and David Haig's play, Pressure.

Beyond Edinburgh, Dove has directed a welter of work at Shakespeare's Globe, Hampstead Theatre and a slew of producing houses that has seen his work on the West End and in Europe. Dove has also developed a working relationship with playwright Howard Brenton, with productions of two history-based works, Anne Boleyn and Eternal Love, touring to Edinburgh in recent years.

Most recently, Dove's production of Claire Van Kampen's play, Farinelli and the King, featuring Mark Rylance as King Philippe V of Spain, transferred from Shakespeare's Globe to the West End. The show also features Melody Grove, the Glasgow-trained actress who appeared in Dove's Lyceum production of Of Mice and Men.

For The Crucible, Dove has gathered a cast of twenty to play out Salem's community in crisis. Again, he makes clear the parallels with the sort of contemporary unrest which has seen the most vulnerable people in society demonised.

“I believe that it's important for the doctors and the nurses and the teachers to stand up,” he says, “but once they stand up, I think it's inevitable that a lot of flaws become clear in a way they didn't when people were sitting down, and that's the point that The Crucible begins. What interests Miller is that people will turn on each other if they're put under a spotlight, out of fear, out of loss, out of not having a map, or out of clinging too hard to a belief.

“That's the point that Miller engages with this small town in 1690. If you're doing a play about a democracy that isn't working, which is what The Crucible is, I wouldn't touch it if it wasn't putting first and foremost the soul and humanity of individuals to the fore. The heart of that is having faith and trust in humanity.”

Dove met Miller once, back when Dove was associate director of Hampstead Theatre when a production of one of Miller's plays was being done there. Dove remembers the writer as “a big man, a big bear, very alive mentally, and warm, so you could see how it came to pass that he would write these things. I think they're treasures, and we should look after them.”

It was while he was at Hampstead too that Dove first connected with the Royal Lyceum's outgoing artistic director, Mark Thomson, who was then a young assistant director. When Thomson began his tenure at the Royal Lyceum some years later, he wrote to Dove, inviting him to direct Death of A Salesman. This set in motion what Dove now regards as a body of work which The Crucible will complete.

With writer David Greig shortly to succeed Mark Thomson as Royal Lyceum artistic director, when Dove will return to Edinburgh remains to be seen. As a freelance director in demand, he's currently booked up until the end of 2017. There are plans too for a new company, formed in association with Brenton and others to present work in environments outwith regular theatres.

“I'll still do the big plays,” Dove says, “but telling a story beside a hospital bed can matter just as much. That ties in with what Arthur was saying as well, in The Crucible and in all of his plays. He'll shine a spotlight on somebody who would be passed by unless you wrote a play about them. He was always trying to give strength to the janitor, and not the king.”

The Crucible, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, February 18-March 19.

The Herald, February 2nd 2016


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