Exclusive: we interview actress Samantha Colley about her role in The Old Vic's The Crucible

The Old Vic's production of Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible screens in Cineworld on 4th and 7th of December only. The Hobbit's Richard Armitage takes the lead in Miller's fictionalised account of the notorious 16th century Salem witch trials, and starring opposite him is actress Samantha Colley as Abigail, the woman who instigates a catastrophic chain of events.

We spoke to Samantha about her role in the play, its continued importance and her first major professional experience treading the boards. Click here to book your tickets for The Crucible.

The Crucible is one of the most celebrated of all plays. Why do you think it continues to resonate with contemporary audiences?

I believe The Crucible to be one of the clearest warnings and confrontations of our capabilities as human beings. It will always be relevant and resonate as long as we continue to engage in and fall victim to the trappings and failings of our human nature. Those trappings are timeless. 

The modern audience experiences an unnerving acknowledgement of their own flaws where the initial distance of 1692 falls away and the same choices are heart-breakingly and alarmingly familiar, current and applicable to whenever it is read or watched. That is incredibly potent.

The play has been adapted in numerous ways beforehand. What innovations did director Yaël Farber bring to the production?

Yaël Farber brought herself first and foremost. Her passion for The Crucible was palpable and infectious from the outset - we all knew she was going to build something very special indeed. She brought crystal vision, precision, an iron stripping of the unnecessary, a bar beyond excellence and the gift of being able to weave physical exploration with cerebral discovery. 

She galvanized us together as a village immediately, allowing us to come to our characters in the most truthful way. She never stopped working which allowed it to be what it needed to be. We understood our village in such acute detail that so much fell into place beautifully and organically.

Were you already familiar with her work as a director?

I had heard of Yaël Farber long before I got to meet her. Her work spoke for itself. I was following the troubling case of Jyoti Singh Pandey around the time I auditioned for Yaël. I was excited to meet someone who was serving such a desperate need with her Nirbhaya. It was very inspiring. I knew she made and makes truly extraordinary theatre and longed to be a part of her next piece.

Your character, Abigail, is essentially responsible for the witch-hunt at the centre of the story. How much of a challenge is it to find the humanity and plausibility in a character who spreads so much hatred and chaos?

To find her humanity seems a challenge but it wasn't at all. Undertaking the search was the most vital thing to do in bringing Abigail to life. Once I went about finding her humanity and plausibility I was struck by how much I came not only to understand Abigail but also love and feel deep sympathy for her. 

Her actions and reasoning instantly seemed plausible and understandable. She wasn't about spreading hate. If you search without prejudice you begin to see a child longing, having experienced real trauma and violence; living with the loss of her parents; living under extreme restriction, suppression and fear; rejected by the man she was awakened by and adores taking with him her hopes of happiness. All peppered with brief intoxicating encounters with power. 

Her actions spring not from hatred or evil but from deep hurt, vulnerability and loneliness. Things we all experience as human beings at one time or another. We are all capable of being an Abigail. I don't believe the hatred began or ended with her at all. Failing to see the blood on everyone's hands would be missing the point entirely. 

Would you agree that the real horror of the narrative lurks not in allegations of the supernatural but in humanity itself?

Undoubtedly the real horror is in humanity itself. The horror lies in witnessing how easily the village combusts and how easily it could have been avoided. The deeper horror for the audience is seeing the repetitive and cyclical behavioural traps we all fall victim to. The most powerful acknowledgment is not only lamenting that the lessons weren't heeded in 1692 but that we continue to make them in 2014 and sadly will continue to beyond.

This was your first professional acting job after graduating from The Oxford School of Drama. Did you relish the challenge of launching straight into such an esteemed production?

It certainly was my first professional job. The audition for Abigail was my first ever professional audition. I graduated a term early from The Oxford School of Drama to take Abigail on. Launching into such a production was quite literally a dream come true. To be at The Old Vic, working on a Miller play, directed by Yaël Farber and working with such a superb cast and team all seemed a little too good to be true. 

I was daunted but extremely grateful and eager to squeeze the experience for everything it was worth. Just to be able to learn was the biggest gift I could have asked for. One I know I will keep drawing from for the rest of my career.

What was it like starring opposite Richard Armitage, especially given that he now has a bigger profile with The Hobbit?

Richard was wonderful to work with. He's not only an extremely generous and patient actor but also kind and nurturing to someone starting out like I was. That was such a blessing. I also had the benefit of meeting quite a few of his lovely Hobbit fans at stage door each night who were incredibly supportive. 

Is there a special kind of magic performing in such a famous theatre as The Old Vic?

There definitely is a special kind of magic at The Old Vic. Every wall feels soaked with rich history. Like each production and it's people have been carved into the building. You can't help but feel it. There is a beautiful photograph of Vivien Leigh that I passed every day. Not once did I pass it and not feel giddy with it all. It seemed like madness that I was there.

What projects do you have on the horizon?

I am currently across the road at the Young Vic in Caryl Churchill's Far Away for another two weeks. Beyond that, who knows!