There’s been a bit of taking sides about Neil Armfield’s inclusion of a prominent non-speaking, all-seeing role for a gentleman named Dr Crabbe. For what it’s worth, here’s where I stand.
First, it was a beautiful performance. Again, like the set, it was always going to be risky, and in the wrong hands it could be intrusive and embarrassing, even arrogant. Thankfully, it was in the right hands. It is hard to imagine another actor who could have played this role with such delicacy and gravitas. Peter Carroll rocks.
Second and, again, like the set, Armfield’s Crabbe conceit was, for me, another part of the seamlessness of the how this story leapt from page to stage to the inside of my head. To say I didn’t notice Crabbe is obviously wrong. But he was such a plausible member of the community, such an intrinsic part of the drama, that he didn’t cause me a moment’s pause.
Third, and perhaps most important, the introduction of a character who is not explicitly described in the composer’s score or directions is a natural and entirely appropriate gesture for a work which has ceased to be the sole domain of its creator. Pretty much everyone recognises Peter Grimes as a work which has earned an enduring posi in the repertoire. Which means it is out there, in the world, still related to Britten (and Pears, and Crabbe, and Montagu Slater) but making its own way. It is an exciting place to be. Persnally speaking, I’m not yet ready for a Peter Grimes set on Mars but, hey, if it makes good theatre…
(As a side comment, the alternative is to be one of those execrable set-in-stone shows like Phantom or Les Mis. Or rather, preserved in aspic, because they can still move, physically and emotionally, but in a rather wobbly and disturbing way.)