Something wicked this way comes | Marama Corlett

With religious fundamentalism back on the global radar, a staging of Arthur Miller’s witch-hunting classic The Crucible has never felt timelier. First staged at the Old Vic in London last summer and boasting Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) in the lead role of John Proctor, Yaël Farber’s sold-out and critically acclaimed production will be screened at the St James Cavalier cinema for three nights next month. We speak to Malta-born, London-based actress Marama Corlett about the play, in which she plays the youngest of the female ensemble… and sets the (apparently supernatural) drama in motion. 

Marama Corlett (centre): “The folk of Salem are us. We are them”. Photo by Johan Persson
Marama Corlett (centre): “The folk of Salem are us. We are them”. Photo by Johan Persson

What was the process of getting this role in the first place like? Could you tell us a bit about your previous experience on the stage, and how it may have helped you acquire the role of Betty?

I met casting director Maggie Lunn and director Yaël Farber at my audition. Maggie had seen me in a previous play I was in called ‘The Children’s Hour’, which was on at the West End a couple of years back. I was very excited to be called in by Maggie and, I feel very fortunate about the way it worked out. Yaël’s rehearsal process was not a conventional one, neither was her audition. Betty is the youngest member we see in the play, and I believe they preferred not to cast a real child for the role… so having quite a petite body worked to my advantage.

Yaël had a strong idea of what she wanted. I was asked to improvise quite a bit with the emotional scenes in the play. She was also very interested in experimenting with my body movement.

What were some of the most challenging aspects of getting into this character? It’s a very physical role, for starters... did you draw on your ballet experience to help channel this aspect of it?

It was by far my most physically and emotionally demanding role. Betty is believed to be possessed by the devil at the start of the play. We explored different types of bodily contortion, playing around with different strange unnatural movements. Together with Yaël and our movement director Imogen Knight I was able to improvise until finally deciding on what moves we wanted to keep. It would have been physically impossible without my ballet training.

I think the challenge initially is always letting go of yourself completely in front of a bunch of strangers and finally being okay with looking absolutely silly, making mistakes and making choices in a safe space. Tapping into such an extremely dark and sad story every performance was at times very emotionally draining and challenging, but we got through it making cups of teas for each other in between acts and simply taking care of each other as a company.

Given that the cast is a pretty large ensemble, and that the play is a classic of modern theatre, how did you all prepare for the production? What kind of unique vision did the director have for this oft-performed play? Was it hard to conform to it?

Yaël Farber had a vision of the play being ‘visceral’, to cut to the teeth and bone of the piece. I believe Yaël said that she wanted the audiences to understand that Miller was saying: the folk of Salem are us. We are them. Arthur Miller wrote a genius timeless play. You could easily draw many parallels from today’s world. Nothing we don’t recognise or respond to in our own lives now. First day of rehearsals we had to throw ourselves into the text into the play.

It’s an extraordinary story, so she pushed us to attempt to reach the extraordinary within ourselves to push one another improvising through the characters – we did our best to find the effect that every shift, every turn of events had on this community and on each other. Every day was about digging deep and finding an acute awareness of what the stakes were for everyone of us. It was definitely hard work, but it wouldn’t have worked any other way. Yaël Farber very cleverly brought new light to Miller’s play.

What was it like performing alongside dwarf-warrior Thorin Oakenshield himself, Richard Armitage?

I take my hat off to Richard. John Proctor is a dream character for any actor but also an extremely challenging and exhausting one. Still, after every single performance he never failed to sing autographs and say hello to huge queues of Hobbit fans waiting outside. I don’t know how he did it. He is a wonderful actor, and a very cool man. Also, quite tall for a dwarf.

How is theatre different from acting in film and television? And how would you describe the theatrical scene in London?

The theatrical scene in London keeps getting stronger and braver each year and has become more accessible, especially to the younger generation. The whole rehearsal process and build up to a performance on stage, rather then film or TV, is different. An actor has far more time to build his or her character, and connect with the director and cast. Performing the same piece every day, the repetition alone is challenging. The live audience makes it more exciting and scary, all at the same time. It’s all about experimenting with your fellow cast members finding ways to keep it fresh and alive. It’s a wonderful medium, and by far the best way to better your craft.

What advice would you give to other Maltese actors who hope to branch out into the international scene?

Whenever I’m back home I always make it a point to visit the theatre or keep myself up to date with the latest film and TV projects. Malta has a vast amount of talented artists and it’s only a matter of time before we see Maltese names popping up in international projects. I’d say hard work and determination are key. I’d love for Maltese actors to get recognition around the world. Avoiding jealousy, and supporting and encouraging each other instead, will get us there.

The Crucible will be screened at St James Cavalier, Valletta on February 1, 6 and 19. The February 1 screening will be at 18:30, the remaining two will be at 20:00. Tickets are at €12, €10 and €8. Bookings: [email protected], 2122 3200

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