Having spent Friday evening over at The Phantom of the Opera, immersed in beautiful music but frankly distracted and with the vague impression that the costumes and set, while excellent, were overelaborate in comparison to The Crucible, Saturday Aug. 30 now brought me home to where I really most wanted to be, mired in angst and oppression. How odd to thirst for these emotions. Also in the mix was my overwhelming anticipation to experience the Stage Door, which is somewhat of a phenomenon in itself. I knew in advance what to expect from Richard Armitage, namely speed, and I feared a bit that I might somehow make a hash of it, but nonetheless I absolutely had to be there.
Mom and I met with Sue, a fellow American Armitage admirer from the RA Central forum, at the Waterloo Bar and Kitchen, a lovely little restaurant next door to the Old Vic. The three of us really hit it off as we enjoyed glasses of wine, interesting conversation and a pre-theatre fine dining experience. At the theatre, I was in the stalls on the left side, 7th row. From this perspective I could still see facial expressions, but the problem of occasional blocked views was abolished, and I could also appreciate the overall choreography more than when I was on the front row. I loved how the different characters had different levels of choreography, from the extreme whirling gyrations and epileptic dance-like commotion of the girls, to John Proctor’s explosive circles of passionate fury, down to the contrasting simplicity of restraint and stillness that was integral to the portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor. Being a Saturday evening performance, I noticed a difference in RA’s voice compared to Thursday, even from the start. I hadn’t felt he was one bit hoarse on Thursday, but Saturday evening, his 7th performance of the week, he had a raspy quality to his voice.
This being my second time to see it, I felt I noticed more details because I knew what was coming. I saw many John Thornton-esque facial expressions and to a lesser extent stances, especially in his disdainful dealings with Reverend Parrish and Thomas Putnam, Proctor’s foes. I was reminded of Thorton’s attitude around some of the other mill owners and with workers who displeased him. I didn’t see much of Thorin, though with Thorin I am not as familiar, having only watched both Hobbit films twice. Unsurprisingly, I saw nothing whatsoever of Guy, but there was one piercing look over Proctor’s shoulder which struck me as pure Lucas North! This look was directed at Mary Warren as she first begins to disintegrate during the court hearing in Act 3; Proctor is mainly focused on presenting his affidavits to the judges, and she begins her nervous twitching on the sidelines. It was an authoritative “keep it together, girl” expression, and it looked like the type of fierce look Lucas might give a faltering asset/informant.
The transformation of John Proctor from the robust, forceful presence in Acts 1, 2 and 3 to the weakened and wavering man in Act 4 was remarkable. I think that his makeup effects were applied with a heavier hand, as well, because I didn’t remember him looking so white or so bloody and broken the first time. The moments when I came closest to actually weeping that evening were when John is seated in Act 4, with Elizabeth at his feet, as she tells him the fate of Giles Corey. Their ability to laugh while simultaneously crying as she tells him that Giles had only two words, “More. Weight.” just gripped me. It transported me to 2002, my beloved cousin’s funeral. [My cousin Brent suffered from Spinal Muscular Atrophy and spent his life in a wheelchair, dying at the age of 26. Despite his immense physical challenges, he was brilliantly funny, had a tremendous intellect, and was one of the most engaging and interesting people I have ever known, both as a child and as a young man.] I’ll never forget that sensation, as a church full of mourners simultaneously laughed and wept at recollections of Brent. I well remember that juxtaposition of emotions, feeling tickled with laughter, yet heavy with heartache as tears streamed down faces at the funeral. How two actors can recreate such a powerfully poignant and complex emotion before an audience is a wonder to me. So yes, I once again thought The Crucible, and Richard Armitage, were absolutely phenomenal, and this time there was an almost immediate standing ovation.
I made my way directly to the Stage Door as fast as possible, only to find out Sue had embraced her inner ninja and somehow leaped over, under or through a railing somewhere and was about 10 people ahead! What an asset to have for the Stage Door experience, right? So I joined her, where we gushed about the excellence of the performance. Mom finally made it out, and she had her camera ready to go. I decided I’d probably regret it if I didn’t ask Richard Armitage for a picture, and I also wanted a signature for my program. We had decent position about ½ way down the building. The line reached the front of the theater and around the corner that night, and the atmosphere was positively buzzing. I was surprised at how fast Richard appeared, within 10 minutes, I think, and as expected, he sped down the line signing fast and repeating “Oh, thank you”, “Bless you”, and “Aw, thank you so much for coming”.
Richard was wearing rolled up jeans, the super sexy grey t-shirt from the rehearsal photo shoot, and a snug-fitting grey cardigan. He smelled fresh, looked tremendously appealing but extremely weary, and spoke in a low, quiet voice. I was really expecting that he would seem an intimidating size (why, I don’t know, as Hubby has an inch on him and I don’t find tall men in general intimidating), but in actuality, he was nowhere near as large as I had thought after seeing him in the early Acts. I really wonder if that’s because he was not fully out of Act 4’s Proctor, who appears so much leaner and less robust, or if he’s intentionally projecting a low-key persona, but the man at the Stage Door had none of the breathtaking physicality and performance energy that he’d used to captivate hundreds of people earlier in in the evening.
Within moments, he was in front of me, and I said something along the lines of “that was just tremendous” as he signed my program, but to be truthful, I was pretty discombobulated, so my exact words are lost forever. Richard definitely replied “Aw, bless you” and he was already signing Sue’s program when I asked if I could please have a photo. He is very laid back. He said “Sure, where is the camera?” as he was already swinging into position in what can only be described as a well-practiced and fluid motion, placing an arm around my back (Yes!) and leaning in a bit (Yes!) as I pointed out my mom. Not being photogenic, I look a bit weird but completely thrilled, while Richard has a fatigued but pleasant expression that can be counted as a smile, though not half as big as my smile! Sue had apparently been distRActed at first, but suddenly remembered to give him her little thoughtful gift of throat lozenges, which she handed directly to him. Richard glanced at the lozenges as he accepted them, and chuckled (Yes!) as he thanked her.
My mom snapped several (unfortunately blurry) pics of Richard moving down the line. He stopped at the end of the building, and then disappeared, so there were probably about 15 to 20 that did not get to meet him that night. I’m happy to report that Mom was wide awake for The Crucible this time, and she reiterated that she’d loved it. In fact, months ago she’d pooh-poohed my 3rd ticket and made an alternate booking arrangement, saying twice at any show would be one time too many for her, but she changed her tune and wished she had that 3rd ticket after Saturday night. The three of us were wired, and had to discuss the details of The Crucible and try to recall specifics of our brief Stage Door encounter, so we walked down The Cut to a pub and drank wine and “talked Armitage” until we were told it was closing time. As Mom and I walked down Waterloo toward our hotel, we saw Natalie Gavin and Adrian Schiller, both of whom were spectacular in their roles, having a smoke and a quiet conversation outside of The Pit Bar, so we briefly complimented them and they smiled and nodded as we went past. I found out later that many of the cast members had been in the Pit Bar, possibly even Richard, so was kicking myself that we went elsewhere for our drinks!
I really look back fondly on that entire evening, as it was the first time I’d met with another member of our fandom, the performance was of course superb, and the Stage Door experience went off without me making a complete fool of myself. It all added up to the most wonderful evening we spent in London. So thank you, Sue. Thank you, Mom. And thank you, Richard Armitage.