Conall Morrison Prepares for The Crucible
The director of the new Lyric Theatre's inaugural play returns to home turf
Conall Morrison, director of The Crucible, the first production at the new Lyric Theatre, has the wrong phone number. Or rather, the right number minus the very last digit. Since it is a home rather than a work number, it is particularly embarrassing. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ Morrison says, after a flurry of emails and texts to deliver the missing digit in time for our interview. ‘It’s the human condition.’
Armagh-born Morrison, who wryly describes himself as having ‘somehow scammed a lifetime career in the theatre’, is obviously enthusiastic about his production of The Crucible. He describes it as a ‘superb choice’ to open the new season at the Lyric, and not just because it is a well-known theatre classic.
Morrison denies any intent to make ‘facile associations’, but points out that The Crucible was never simply about the Salem Witch Trials. It is an allegory, he says, 'a play about hysteria breeding hysteria, fear breeding fear and paranoia breeding paranoia. It’s about extremism and how it catches like fire'. Hardly facile to note that it is entirely relevant to the Northern Irish political landscape.
Nor, Morrison points out, is The Crucible as well-known as people think. The play might be a staple of school reading lists, but as far as Morrison is concerned the stage is the only way to really appreciate The Crucible as author Arthur Miller intended. ‘The recipe is not the same as the meal,’ he says gnomically, before adding more prosaically. ‘You aren’t locked in the room with the cast. The energy ain’t coming atcha.’
To Morrison’s mind channeling that two-way energy is the director’s primary role. Although he hasn’t shied away from putting his own stamp on previous productions - modernizing or relocating settings - the suggestion that he might do the same with this production makes him sputter denials.
‘You just don’t mess with The Crucible,’ he insists. Any previous attempts to adapt or alter Miller’s work, he argues, have only led to diminishing the impact. ‘The play is a monster, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and my job is to make the cast scale the heights of the play.’
And, with this production, it has been so far, so good. The cast have lived up to Morrison’s expectations, and have 'thrown themselves' into the play. Part of that, of course, might be down to the excitement of being the first actors to perform a play in the newly rebuilt Lyric Theatre. Morrison admits that there is a little ‘extra charge’ in rehearsals.
Although he has been Dublin-based of late, Morrison feels that he does his best work in Northern Ireland – ‘on my home turf, where I know the community and speak the idiom’ - so it is a ‘huge honour’ to be the Northern Irish director chosen for the new Lyric's inaugural play. Particularly since Morrison prizes his ongoing, unofficial relationship with the theatre in all its incarnations.
Before its renovation, Morrison directed a number of plays at the old Lyric Theatre, including Juno and the Paycock, Dancing at Lughnasa and a Lyric-Abbey co-production of Hamlet. He loved the original Lyric, but says of the new one that ‘people will blink and forget the other ever existed’.
He describes it as ‘a place that predisposes you to theatre’ and that combines ‘pleasing aesthetics with a well-thought out structure’. Working there is a ‘sensual delight’, but Morrison is most looking forward to becoming just another audience member - sitting back, soaking it up and revelling in the birth of a new theatrical giant.