Wednesday September 3rd
What a day that was. Mom and I parted ways after a quick bite to eat; she attended The 39 Steps matinée, while I attended my third and final performance of The Crucible. Prior to the performance, I was fortunate to meet up with C, another forum friend from Greece. C very kindly treated me to a glass of wine in The Pit Bar, and shared details of the Conversation and Tuesday evening’s performance. We spoke on many things, including Richard Armitage (fancy that!) and his admission that the Stage Door was often surreal for him in the aftermath of Act 4. We both tended to agree that we felt a bit guilty for having done the Stage Door on more than one occasion, and I believe I may have even indicated that I would refrain from attending again. (*Cough* More on that later.)
This was to be C’s third and final viewing as well, and for both of us, the first time to attend a matinée performance. We were both interested to know whether anything was held back in a matinée, and the answer that day was categorically, NO. In fact, something extra amazing was in the air that afternoon; of the three performances I saw, this one was hands down the best. There was never a lackluster performance of The Crucible, or a performance that failed to move me profoundly, but this one… this one. It was something indefinable. I had been teary-eyed before, but that day, I was many times wiping at tears sliding down my cheeks, even early on, in Act 2. I have wondered if part of that was from my knowledge that this was the last time I would ever see John Proctor, because I definitely woke up in a state of suppressed melancholia that morning. Then C later related it was the best performance she’d seen, and that she’d experienced the same heightened emotional response. I believe the rest of the audience was on the same wavelength, if immediacy and intensity of standing ovation is any indication.
Just a few impressions, as it is almost painful to write about this performance compared to the other times. I was on the opposite side (rear stage) and once again in front row. I will never forget the first few moments, as I was on the aisle where Richard Armitage enters the stage. Several actors started filing in to my left, so I turned to look, and Richard just suddenly manifested in a spot I didn’t expect! Rather than walking down the aisle like the others, he sort of slipped out from a narrow space behind the staircase. Not sure why, but when John Proctor materialized from out of nowhere, it simply took my breath. I audibly inhaled, then felt a momentary panic that he would look at me, but he was immersed in his intensity already, and did not glance my way.
I had been concerned that the rear side of the stage would be inferior, but that was not the case. I actually felt I saw more of John Proctor’s facial expressions, and heard his vocal nuances with more perfect clarity, so it was my favorite seat. Proctor’s voice broke a bit, when he said he thinks Elizabeth is sad, again, in Act 2. Somehow their chemistry together resonated with me in a different way, and I sharply missed my husband during that domestic scene; despite the aching unhappiness in the Proctor household, there was yet a tenderness there that made me intensely homesick. Tears began.
Act 3 from my seat was incredibly creepy. The girls, as they flew about, convulsing and speaking in synchronized monotony, had me shuddering and recoiling in horror, as if Abigail might somehow grip any one of us in her strange voodooism in that moment. Then came Elizabeth’s struggle with her testimony against Abigail and John. Her internal war was written on her face and it was heart wrenching. All I could see was John’s back and neck, but Richard Armitage emotes with every muscle in his body, and his misery in those moments was palpable. Tears again.
And then Act 4. Act 4 was almost unbearable. The raw emotion between Elizabeth and John was incredible. John Proctor’s nose was dripping. His throat was choked. His tears were like incandescent droplets, catching the stage lights as they fell freely onto his lap from my perspective. My own tears were flowing. I felt like hugging myself and rocking, but I kept it together, tamped it down. The buildup and delivery of the “It Is My Name” speech was a master class in performance. I had chills, choked throat, and a veritable flood of tears. I almost have tears now, recalling. At the end, the stage goes black. This audience leapt to our feet before the lights even came back on, and the ovation was the longest yet. Adrian Schiller patted Richard’s back as they left him alone on stage at the end, which I had not seen done before, and take as an acknowledgement from the cast that they, too, felt the immense power of this particular performance.
A very good thing that there was no Stage Door after matinées, and that I didn’t find myself there later that evening. I honestly think I might have burst into tears if I encountered Richard Armitage, my heart was so full and so simultaneously broken. Would that not have been humiliating!? As it was, I found myself completely undone. I left the theatre with C, and started toward Waterloo Station, then suddenly realized I’d left my cardigan inside the theatre. I made my way back, felt the tears surge up as I entered The Crucible atmosphere again, retrieved the cardigan, then it’s all hazy. Even though our hotel was right down the street, and I well knew the layout of the neighborhood, I walked off down The Cut in a daze, rather than across it to get to Waterloo Station. It wasn’t until I was across from The Young Vic that I realized I was just wandering around, rather than hoofing it as fast as possible to catch the Tube and meet up with Mom for Book of Mormon!
I know I felt shattered, and I can only conclude that my face was showing it, because despite it being rush hour and jam-packed, a woman asked me if I was ok as we waited on the Bakerloo platform. I told her I’d be fine, I’d just seen The Crucible and was strongly affected, but she still looked concerned. I won’t even go into how bizarre and disturbing my evening was from there. Suffice it to say that Book of Mormon, in all its lewdly irreverent hilarity, was such a jarring shock after The Crucible that I did not properly enjoy it as I probably otherwise would have done. I did laugh, but I was very distant from my laughter, and it had a hallucinatory quality to it at times, as my mind was drawn again and again to ominous visions of Salem in the round. I wondered if these feelings of unreality and distance were a bit how Richard Armitage felt when he encountered the buzzing Stage Door atmosphere after being in John Proctor’s skin.
I did my best to mask my despondency in the days that followed, for Mom’s sake. I was profoundly glad that I had experienced The Crucible, and amazed to discover that I felt so in love with John Proctor. I can’t explain how or why, exactly, but he’s now my favorite Richard character. The Crucible will always stay with me, and it may well be that nothing can ever top it, theatre-wise. I think I was almost in a state of mourning because I knew that I would never again see John Proctor, that he would have to live only in my memory, and memories fade. When Friday came along, and the glad tidings reached me, it was as if someone I’d irrevocably lost was restored to me, and my spirit was mended without further ado. I am so thankful for this, because I have the distinct impression that without the promise of the Digital Theatre recording, I might be working through depression or the stages of mourning, all for a character and a play, which would in turn make me feel guilty and be very difficult to express to anyone who didn’t experience The Crucible, or who was in the same frame of mind from a real life situation.
Hat’s off to Richard Armitage for his ability to affect my whole outlook on life. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, but I am.