Preoccupied with John Proctor – First Impressions

I think I should not whinge about travel woes, but I will go so far as to say that I probably made a mistake booking The Crucible Night 1 on the very day of our arrival. I had my reasons… a bit of online reconnaissance and a desire to be splashed by John Proctor’s ablutions led me to require at least one seating in F17 or thereabouts. Trouble was, that section was booked on all available performances except Thursday, August 28. However, as we were supposed to arrive prior to 10am, I thought Mom and I would have ample time to nap away our jet lag. Plus, we could sleep on the airplane, right? Cue violins, as none of that happened. Odious back-to-back flight delays, 2 hours in customs, taxi woes, and our room not even ready when we finally did arrive… let’s just say our luck was horrid and leave it at that.

All this to say, I was seriously jet-lagged at this performance. Servetus mentioned that some theatre-goers were to be seen sleeping during the performance, and I cringe to admit that to my horror and embarrassment, Mom was one of those. In fact, Servetus was there that night, and she may well have been referring to Mom. Yes, there in the front row, Mom mostly slept, despite many discreet elbow nudges as well as onstage shouts, chases, children’s gyrations, toppled chairs and impassioned speeches. I sigh, remembering this. I can only hope that the principals (and ensemble) were too focused on their craft to have noticed Mom and her “Crucible Sampler” approach. Suffice it to say, she’ll never live it down. Let’s move on.

Thankfully, no amount of sleep deprivation would have prevented someone with Advanced Armitage Affliction from staying glued to the performance. The overriding impression upon my first viewing, was this: Richard Armitage is wondrously devastating in person! Pictures and even video, for me, no longer do the man justice. It’s in the way he blinks his eyelashes, the intensity of his gaze, the movements of his throat muscles, the elegance of his ears, the eloquence of his hands. We are all aware of his powerful magnetism on screen, but in person that physicality just bowled me over to a degree that I had not anticipated. By all that’s holy, he’s gorgeous.

The moment he appeared in Act 1, charging up the stairs snarling at his servant, I experienced abdominal flutters and tachycardia for several minutes just from his presence. I felt I couldn’t draw a deep breath. I began to wonder if I would be able to forget he was Richard Armitage, but his performance was so magnificent that of course it happened. Within minutes, he was no longer Armitage, but John Proctor. And with John Proctor, at least RA’s portrayal, I fell into the kind of love I feel for John Thornton. As much as I admire Daniel Day-Lewis, his Proctor couldn’t hold a candle to Armitage. (I’ll take Hawkeye over DDL’s Proctor any day of the week. But I’ll take RA’s Proctor over every other role he or any other tremendously compelling actor has done to date.)

That being said, there just aren’t words to describe how fantastic this play was for me. I was enthralled and absorbed completely. To my surprise, I would have loved this production even without Richard. This speaks to the strength of the entire ensemble, not a weak link anywhere, as well as the absolute beauty of the choreography, lighting, music, and the spare, rustic set in the round. Yael Farber is a Rock Star! I will gladly see anything she’s involved with in the future, given the chance. Absolutely the most incredible play I’ve ever seen.

Naturally, Richard Armitage took it from fabulous to “out of the ballpark“…. I was by turns moved and touched, frightened and miserable, tearful and laughing. He was so vulnerable, so broken, so exhausted at different moments that I felt powerfully compelled to leave my seat, to go to Proctor and comfort him. (That would have been even more of a gaffe than sleeping in the front row. Glad I refrained.) I was particularly struck by his performance at the water scene. I really expected to be ogling (gawping a la Quentin Letts) during that scene, and I did, just a little. But what really fascinated me were those lovely little gasps and convulsive shudders as he washed. It was beautifully done.

So yes, I was electrified by Richard Armitage’s live performance. When the man gets physical, it’s terrifying. He chases Abigail in one scene, Mary Warren in another… I actually experienced skipped heartbeats as he rounded the stage! That chemistry between Proctor and Abigail was hot, and it was hot in a guilty, wretched way. The chemistry between Proctor and Elizabeth was also potent, but in a powerfully poignant and wistful, almost unrequited way. I ached for them. The play in its entirety was devastating, and I will share my impressions of some the later Acts in future posts.

Much to my astonishment, there was a standing ovation, but it didn’t happen until the end of the applause, when the cast came out for the second time. This baffled me, as I was ready to stand immediately, despite my shakiness at the conclusion. With Mom barely able to keep her eyes open, and myself bowled over and completely overwrought from my first experience of Armitage in living action, we decided to do the stage door another night. We returned to the hotel, which was a very short walk from The Old Vic. Mom was funny. She insisted she loved it. I told her she was in for a real treat next time, because it was even better awake. We had to laugh. Despite the humor, I was already touched with a vague apprehension that I had seriously underestimated the satisfactory number of times to see The Crucible, yet it was sold out. Simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted, I couldn’t sleep.