JenniferIswara

As part of our ongoing commitment to nurture, support and inspire local theatre-makers, the Royal Exchange Theatre are able to offer directors based in Greater Manchester the opportunity to observe the journey of a production through rehearsals with our OBSERVER MONDAYS SCHEME.

Here is the first blog from THE CRUCIBLE observing director Jennifer Iswara.

Before I started as Observer on this project I knew it was a big play. Big cast. Big ideas. Big reputation.  But nothing prepared me for the number of people in the room first thing on Monday morning. Quite aside from the 19 cast members I counted, the artistic team took the body count in the room up to 30. I've never been in such a big rehearsal room. And what amazing diversity in the room as well. From seasoned Exchange and RSC stalwarts to young actors on their first job. Such a brilliant range of experience in the room.

And still it felt like the first day of school for everyone. Getting to know new faces, finding out their role on the project. Explaining mine brought a few puzzled faces. 'So you're only here on Mondays?'. 'Yup'. Then smiles and shrugs and friendly acceptance.

Hearing the play aloud for the first time added colour and dimension and a fleeting glimpse of what the show will be. The first day on a piece with such depth, it really is only possible to have only the tiniest of beginnings of conversations around themes and meanings.

As I start to reflect on the play for myself in the week I have had between rehearsals, I have been thinking what a testament is is to the absurd horror of the play that many of the actors had not realised it was based on a true story prior to starting work on the project. But then I remembered having the exact same thought myself when I visited Salem some years ago, only realising when stood in front of a memorial with the names of the characters spelled out on it in brass.

That witch hunts happened is incredible. But to stop and consider the way in which they unfolded it is possible to see patterns of paranoia and intolerance throughout history. Indeed, as is widely known, The Crucible is an allegory for a modern day witch hunt - the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Cold War.  That Arthur Miller felt it was not possible to discuss what was happening in contemporary terms during McCarthyism and chose to use the events in Salem as an allegory is striking.

Miller said, "An ideological war is like guerrilla war, since the enemy is an idea whose proponents are not in uniform but are disguised as ordinary citizens, a situation that can scare a lot of people to death." Finding this quote whilst reading Assistant Director, Kate's research pack really struck a note with me. So relevant in the early 50's, so relevant in 1692 and so worryingly relevant today.

As I am about to go into my second rehearsal at the start of week two, I am keen to discover how those universal notes are being played in this production right now. This really is big stuff!