02 July 2014

I Was in the Same Room as Richard Armitage!!

I took a long weekend in London (being able to do that is one of the things I love about living here!) to visit my bestie. It just happened to be the most fantastic and luckiest coincidence ever that The Crucible starring (pause for fan girl giggle) Richard Armitage was in tech the same weekend. Which meant not only tickets but fairly reasonably priced ones at that!

The show started tech week with a four hour running time. It seems they have it down to 3.45 now but it could really be cut a bit more. It's not the dialogue that slows it down but all the extraneous "dramatic" crap. It didn't help that the play went up more than 10 minutes late (hopefully they get that under control before opening). But what really needs to go is the opening sequence in which a moaning Tituba slowly, and I mean


enters from downstage, alternately dragging and stamping her feet. After she painfully (for us not her) makes her way to the front and stamps around a bit, the remaining cast members enter barefoot and (also sloooowly) make their way to the chairs scattered about. After pausing for what felt like an interminable amount of time, they all put on their shoes (why are they barefoot?!), sit, and the lights slowly dim until there's only one follow spot on, sigh, Richard Armitage. Sigh.

Let's take a moment to talk about the Old Vic.What apparently was once a shallow stage is now a small space in a theatre in the round. What used to be stage and back stage is now more seating. Usually I avoid the first couple rows of theatres (you'll end up craning your neck looking up at everyone, often can't see all the way downstage, and it's splash zone for blood and other things) but here the front rows are all on level with the actors. Had I but known!!

When we arrived I was a little skeptical about the set up. All that was on the itty bitty stage were a bunch of chairs. Set dressing remained minimal throughout with actors bringing in small pieces of furniture as needed for each act. The designer even covered up the decoration that's part of the theatre's architecture by draping it all with grey-ish cloths. I'm not usually a big fan of all this minimalism but in the end I liked it here. The bareness of the set dressing emphasized the starkness of the play while not distracting from the rawness of the emotion and dialogue.

Speaking of the dialogue...

I've seen a couple film versions of this play but this beat them all. On film it was just a film but as a play I could feel the emotion. So here I nod to several of the actors by whom I was particularly impressed.

Samantha Colley as Abagail Williams. She is full on crazy and it's amazing. She's even more frightening in her moments of calm and in the way she silently commands her minions. The power she has over them, especially Mary, is incredible.

And a nice segue onto Mary played by Natalie Gavin. Ms Gavin's Mary was quite sympathetic. I don't recall appreciating how difficult her position was when I read the play but you really feel her struggle between morality and survival and (spoiler alert-it's not like the text hasn't been around though!) it makes her ultimate choice of survival over the truth all the more painful to see.

Adrian Schiller as Rvd John Hale was another favorite of mine. Here was a good man, an outsider, brought in to deal with this community's problem and trying like fire to do the right thing. And not succeeding. Like Mary he is torn between survival (ie signing 70-some death certificates) and morality by standing up for John Proctor and pleading with those who refuse to save themselves by confessing. His plea when he asks Proctor if throwing away his life for pride is not a greater sin than saving his life by dying is desperate and heartrending.

And here we move to Armitage. I just about fell out of my seat being in the same room with him and was so pleased that the charisma he has on screen is as powerful, and even amplified, on stage. I did some swooning. I read in a recent article attached to the play that Armitage's main love is theatre but, because of the recent trends in which it seems to be all the screen actors getting the best stage roles, he consciously went after a TV and film career so he could return to stage. And what a return.

Armitage owns the stage during the play. And for anyone thinking that it can't be all that hard to do so given its minuscule size, remember he's competing in scenes with crazy Abby and her army of devil spotting ladies-in-waiting. Even when he's not active in the scene he's active and present. That said, he does not pull focus (except for people like me who can't stop looking at him because he's So. Damn. Pretty.) and there's not a sense of 'Look at me, look at me, I'm the star'.

His beautiful voice (I may own and frequently listen to all his audio books) carried well around the theatre but, sadly, he seems to be reducing his natural Northern accent. I couldn't tell if he were trying for something American, although who's to say what an "American" accent sounded like in 1692, or if he were just lightening it. Either way he should stop that. Whoever in his management/pr office monitors his Google alerts should tell him that.

There was a moment that may have veered a little too close to the sun towards the end of the play when John Proctor is making his own moral vs. survival decision. He did not go the route of Icarus and go splat but I questioned if it were a moment of over acting or no. My completely amateur, I just like theatre and blog about any and every adventure, opinion came down on the side of not over acting. Proctor is so close to reclaiming his life but he's not sure he's worthy of it because of both his past sins and the sin he commits now by lying to save his own skin while his friends and neighbors die for maintaining the truth. His emotional struggles throughout the play were also physically manifest and never more so than in this final scene. His reaction when his wife lies for him about his affair with Abby was heartbreaking. In the past I've been lock step with Rvd Hale on this about the greater sin being to throw away your life for pride...Armitage's John Proctor made me think that maybe it's not.

While watching the play I had to wonder how many people in the packed house really knew what the story was about. Sure, Arthur Miller wrote a play about the Salem Witch Trials...but that wasn't the point of this story. The Crucible is about McCarthyism, which ripped apart Hollywood and the country in the 1950's. The practice of naming names to get yourself out of hot water ruined a good many people during this anti-Communism scare in the US. Some people gave up names willingly and some, like poor Tituba in Act I, out of fear and desperation. As a high school kid reading The Crucible for the first time and with a very basic understanding of what McCarthyism was I couldn't fully appreciate it. As an adult I am horrified. The United States of America was founded by the very pilgrims from whom Miller's characters descend because they wanted freedom. One of the freedoms we have is the right to be Communist if we damn well want to be (which frankly when you look at American politics sometimes it doesn't seem like a bad alternative). But in the 50's, actual Communists and the merely suspected alike were persecuted for exercising these freedoms. To me, this is one of those moments in American history, like the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the genocide, yes genocide, of Native Americans that the American people have willfully forgotten. How do we not repeat these crimes if we don't learn from our mistakes? What will be the next trumped-up panic?

I've now veered way way off the path of Richard Armitage fandom so, in a Homeric circular writing trick I now leave my soap boxy meander to come back to the play...

I'm so glad bestie indulged me and took me to this, especially since she didn't come out raving about it the way I have! It's been a long time since I've been to the theatre but even longer since I've been to a play that I thought deserved high marks in all departments.

There was laughter at the beginning of the play when everyone made such a big deal about Abby and the girls dancing in the woods. The horror with which they reacted when they learned the girls were dancing. Dancing! The horror! Apparently though, THIS is what happens when you forbid dancing.  Something to think about, no?


Marie said...

Thank you so much, Andrea. This is a really interesting review - even though you are a fan of RA's you could see the production as a whole. I'm going in August. Can't wait!!

Andrea said...

It really was fantastic, wish I could see it again! Enjoy it!!

Anonymous said...

Great review - better than many of the professional ones so far!

Andrea said...

Thank you!

Morrighan Muse said...

What a wonderful review of the play! Love your take on the accent - hopefully someone reconsiders his accent and tells him to stop it :)

Andrea said...

Thank you so much! We'll have to ask Marie to let us know how he sounds when she sees the play in August :)