Helen on “The Crucible,” Acting & Meeting Richard: “Shattering . . . Towering . . . Chill”

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Dearest Helen (Wydville) aka my RA Fairy Godmother from London  (I have several of you scattered around the world and bless you all!) got to see our fellow this weekend in The Crucible in one of the preview performances along with dear Judit (aka my Hungarian Honey). I think Judit is still trying to wrap her head around it all . . .  Helen emailed me this morning with her interesting and honest observations and reflections on the overall production, Richard’s performance, the stage door experience and some other thoughts about acting and favorite actors, Shakespeare–and Richard’s feet. She kindly gave me permission to share this with you all.

(Being a writer, I could not resist weighing in myself–my thoughts are bracketed in bold letters while Helen’s words are in italics.)

 

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THE PRODUCTION

Helen:

1. Our seats were, I felt, pretty much the best in the house. We were front row and inches away from the actors [you DO realize how envious we all are of you, don’t you? Thank goodness we all love you around here . . .]

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2. The performance is shattering. I found the direction a little self-indulgent and some of the devices inexplicable, but it is very physical, very powerful, very intense, very atmospheric. I can’t wait to see what the critics make of it. [Me, too! I want to hear from someone other than fans and theatre bloggers . . . eager and anxious all at once!]

*
3. All performances are strong. Rich gets increasingly better through the course of the play and in the final scene he is towering, in every sense of the word. I wept.  [feeling a lovely sort of frisson here reading Helen’s words] Standing ovation even before he came back to take his bows.

*
4. Fangurls in total minority. Unlike Coriolanus *starring Tom Hiddleston*, vast majority of audience proper theatre-goers. Many middle-aged couples in suits and theatre-going attire. [ah, and these “proper theatre-goers” gave him a proper standing ovation, too. I think this bodes well . . .]

STAGE DOOR

Helen:

Afterwards it was all very low key. Orderly queue at stage door. Everybody beautifully and decorously behaved. [Does anyone else wonder if it would be the same–as mannerly and well-behaved–if this were a NYC audience? Just thinking of some past incidences . . .]

Some of the other actors came out first and a few of us chatted to Jack Ellis who plays Danforth. He was in no hurry and happy to sign autographs and natter for a few minutes.  Judit has seen the play three times and she says each time was like seeing a different play; well, it’s still in preview and Farber is tinkering[ So, will the critics see a substantially different production than the one seen early on by preview audiences? A shorter production?]

 Jack Ellis confirmed this in our chat. Speaking of whom, we just found out this morning that he’s Robin Ellis’ brother! Of course, when I looked him up, I recognised him instantly. He’s one of those actors that’s been in everything but has never made it big time. [FYI Robin Ellis is the original Poldark from the 70’s TV series]

 

When Rich came out, there was no hysteria or giggling. He was clearly in a hurry to get through the autographs and be gone but he was still courteous, sweet and obliging. He just came down the queue signing away, posing for photos, a quick word here and there. His voice is… honey. I said something about “shattering performance” to which he replied, “Aw, thank you; bless you.” It was all so understated and… chill, I suppose. [His legendary “Zen-like calm,” perhaps?]

It’s funny: I’ve waited six years for this and it all felt just so… understated and inevitable. So accessible. No biggie. Rich is no superhero, no wonderman, no awe-inspiring giant; just a big bloke with a sweet nature. The bloke who lives next door.

 

[funny, this is what I’ve said all along. RA himself reminds me of the boy next door. The really nice, polite, hard-working boy next door who is good to his mama and toils away at his chosen profession, which just happens to be a very high-profile one. Oh, and he’s rather good looking and charming, too].

THE MORNING AFTER MEETING THE MAN

Helen:

I don’t feel as if my life has changed… What I think I’m trying to say is, if you ever have the opportunity to meet him, great, it will be sweet, but it’s not as if he’s Nelson Mandela; you won’t have been in the presence of true greatness. And yes, he’s a handsome man, but in the flesh he doesn’t make you go gooey all over! After all these years of anticipation (I always knew I would meet him), it was just… very pleasant. [well, I would say that beats it being a crashing disappointment.]

I’m going back next Monday . . . Don’t know how I managed it but I even have the same seats [Lucky devil!]

Agzy will be there, next to us but one. Maybe Rich won’t be in such a hurry this time and we can exchange a few more words and maybe I shall be able to actually look him in the eyes. Somehow, even though this is what I’d really waited for, it didn’t happen. All too quick.

[Inquiring minds want to know: will looking him in those sparkling baby blues make Helen feel as if she is in “the presence of greatness?” 😉 ]

SOME OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE PHYSICAL SPECIMEN HIMSELF

Helen:

One last thing: natural hair colour almost auburn!! Well… chestnut. I bet he was blond as a child. Good arms but losing it very slightly round the midriff. Huge feet but not pretty, I think he’s slightly flat-footed. Very big hands. Generally a big man and bulky around the shoulders and back. Amazing voice and when he shouts….   [I bet people sit up and listen!]

Another thought:

With reference to his Telegraph interview (which, incidentally, I found to be the most thoughtful and insightful one he’s given to date), I have no trouble believing that a genuinely angry Armitage on the rampage would be quite terrifying.
[I totally concur. He’s a big, strapping, strong guy capable of great intensity. I really wouldn’t want to make him angry . . .]

Helen added these thoughts in another email. I really appreciate her inner fangurl striving for objectivity here–and I hope you do, too.

I’m trying to divorce my subjective emotions from impartiality. Let’s face it: Rich is no Ralph Fiennes (more of him later). In the first half he was good; not brilliant, but good.

But I felt he became progressively better in the second half – he owned John Proctor – and by the final scene you could see the torment, indecision, guilt all through his face and body. When he started coming to the realisation that he was about to betray the truth and all those people who had already consciously gone to their deaths you could see the revelation in his face and his eyes: it was a supreme performance.

As I think about it, I believe it was so powerful because he was so still and he does “still” so, so well. [ oh, yes, he does. As observed by Sir Peter, too]

Possibly Farber made him move around too much in the earlier scenes and it was a distraction. He’s such a big man and when he’s on the move, especially aggressively, he overwhelms the tiny stage; it’s almost grotesque. It’s certainly frightening. I found myself pedalling backwards in to my seat more than once.

Coriolanus is one of those plays that doesn’t get too many airings and I was completely unfamiliar with it. Having seen it with Hiddleston I was prompted to watch the Fiennes film. Play: good – if a little too minimalist for me given my prosopagnosia (face blindness) and the doubling up of roles.

Hiddleston’s performance: overall worthy and in some scenes inspired, especially in the “Mother what have you done?” scene. Film: Oh Emm Gee! Stupefying. Fiennes: Astonishing, terrifying; one of the most riveting performances it has ever been my privilege to see. If you haven’t seen it, you must!

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that movement is the key!

 

Thank you so much, Helen, for sharing this amazing experience with us!

 

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44 responses »

  1. Pingback: Wydville (long-time known-to-us fan) comments on her experience of The Crucible | Me + Richard Armitage

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Your friend’s comments seem dispassionate.
    One thing about RA as child tho: I doubt he was a blond. Auburn, maybe. He certainly was by the time he was 14:

      • Oh, I know that, Cill. It’s just fun speculating about such things. It is amazing how hair color can change over the years naturally—mine got darker, and now it’s getting lighter—as in silver white!! Yikes! And you are welcome. I appreciate Helen being so prompt in sharing with me—It came into my inbox at 5 a.m. here so it was soon after the performance that she wrote me!

    • I don’t know that it’s impossible he was blond, given we haven’t seem any photos of him that young . . . I only knew my dad with brown hair, so imagine my surprise when I saw a photo of him as a toddler—with a headful of *very* blond hair! It darkened a lot so that it was brown by the time he was in his teens. My natural blonde stuck around a few years longer before I had to assist it. Richard does have very fair lashes when they aren’t darkened with makeup—and the hair on his arms is light. Hmmmm, maybe one day we will find out!

      • Are you saying that we might find out if he is a natural blond by some method other than childhood photo?v 😉

      • My speculation is based on Daughter’s colouring which now, in her mid-teens is almost identical to Rich’s: chestnut hair, very fair skin and grey-blue eyes. Until she was about 8/9 she was quite blonde and we never expected her to go as dark as she has, although she still retains gold/white fine hairs all around her hairline and the hair on her arms is fair as well.

        This along with a point in the final scene of The Crucible at which Proctor is kneeling with his head bowed; he’s lit directly from above which makes his hair appear almost sandy brown – it was at this point the thought occurred: wow, he’s so fair! Personally I preferred Guy Black and am mildly disappointed that it was all a lie (:

        • Guy’s dark hair, brow, lashes and stubble were most entrancing—but as we’ve discussed before, I think, the man almost had more makeup on at times than Lucy did (mustn’t leave out the Guyliner and Guyshadow, too)! But it all worked for the character. Benedict Cumberbatch also goes with considerably darker hair as Sherlock and of course, Tom is much fairer in real life than he is as Loki or as that vampire he played. We seem to like our bad boys/sociopathic heroes dark, don’t we?

          My dad’s coloring sounds very much like your daughter’s, Helen—very fair skin, grey blue eyes and a bit of red in his hair, although that faded with time. My older sister used to have a lot of auburn highlights in her (dark) hair if she was out in the sun for any length of time.

  3. Pingback: A Commenter on Armitage Blogs Shares Her Experience | Stories - Photos - Encounters - Reviews - Thoughts by Fans for Fans

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this insightful review with us. I thought he had flat feet…just like me! 🙂

  5. Such lovely and succinct observations!!! I had some very similar experiences to Helen actually!! My group also had front row seats, spanning both sides of the center aisle.. and yeah, front row, you’re a little captive to the action with actors moving alarmingly close (as Helen alludes, sometimes self preservation kicks in a little as actors nearly invade one’s personal comfort zone of space) … I know it’s all very well coordinated, but at one point, Armitage was backing up to about a foot away from us, and all I could think as I watched him backing up was, ‘Oh dear God, please do NOT trip!!! When Jack Ellis (as Danforth) would sweep imperiously up the aisle in Act 4, his coat would billow out and hit me for good measure. So yeah, front row is a little bit of an extra adventure.

    One other fun tidbit – but I only realized this after I read the Guardian article – was that Yael Farber was actually sitting right next to us in the front row on the other side of my friend!! What a missed opportunity!! I could have completely bored her with all of my incessant questions regarding her concept and design choices!! 🙂

    And regarding Helen’s Stage Door experience, I have to completely agree – it’s pretty darned low key, very orderly, and extremely accessible… as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s just downright civilized. 🙂

    • Thanks, ExPat. I think I’d feel as if I were in a 3-D film that had come to life and I would start bobbing and weaving in fear of being smacked by somebody or something they were hurling. I definitely don’t think anyone down front could get too bored . . . Actually I was at a performance of the musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” by a national touring company and at one point, a prop axe is thrown across the stage. It went into the orchestra pit. Fortunately, no musicians were harmed. 😉

  6. Great comments, thanks for sharing!

    Absolutely love red heads, especially auburn. So I was thrilled when I realized RA wasn’t a true brunet. LOL!

    • I also love how the pink comes out in his cheeks when he’s sporting something closer to his natural color. Gives him that boy-next-door vibe even more. 😉

    • Helen did all the heavy lifting, I just responded back to some of what she said and added in my own thoughts, because I couldn’t resist editorializing LOL I am glad you enjoyed it, Judi. I appreciate Helen taking the time and effort to share with me and being willing to share it with everyone else.

  7. We may not have been in the presence of true greatness but we certainly were in the presence of genuine, unaffected kindness and sweetness. And he certainly makes me go gooey all over! My hands were shaking for minutes after we left the stage door!

    • That’s what makes him so special to me. Sure, there are arguably better actors, even better-looking/more charismatic actors—but I doubt anyone else can improve on that sublime combination of real stage presence and acting prowess combined with looks, charisma, sex appeal AND the sweet, unassuming, down-to-earth quality that makes him so endearing and precious. He’s a rare gem in that sense. I hope you’ve regained your equilibrium, Judit.

      • Not quite there yet!!! I hope Helen will not mind me saying that she *did* go a bit gooey (maybe not all over! ;)) when he said “bless you” to her in that honey voice of his.

        • Ha ha, Judit, you’ve caught me in my lie! And there I was thinking that I came across as a cool, calm and collected ice maiden! So you obviously made it home ok? Amalia was asking this morning whether I’d heard from you.

          As already said, in my heart I was convinced that one day I would meet Rich, and it wasn’t just wishful thinking but based on a logic of sorts: he’s always said he wanted to return to the theatre; if he did it was likely that he’d be in a London-based play; if he was in a London-based play there would be a stage door opportunity. And so it happened.

          Thus, Monday night was the culmination of six-odd years of anticipation and hope and envy of all those that had already met him. And the “bless you” in honey, with shoulders touching, was electrifying, especially when I fully expected a hoarse raspy voice so soon after the bellowing.

          So… six years… so I had a sort-of out-of-body, wtf?, what just happened?? reaction. Poor old Judit had to take me by the elbow and gently guide me to wherever we were supposed to be going – couldn’t tell you, but I think it involved getting some water from somewhere and getting the train from somewhere else.

          But by the time we were on the train and body and mind had reunited, I saw the episode for what it was: a charming encounter with a warm-hearted, but very normal gentleman.

          And Judit’s hands WERE shaking like you wouldn’t believe!!

  8. I have a lot more to say but it’s almost 3 am here and I have to work tomorrow. What was I thinking not taking tomorrow off???

  9. I’m happy for you! Meeting Richard was an experience I’ll never forget. At the NYC Premier after-party for The Hobbit. Saw him in a dim alcove (like he was trying to hide.) He saw The Key I wore and handled it. He said “…the key to your heart?” Oh Yeah! Took up 10 minutes of his time before he had to “move on.” But in a panic, I impulsively said “I want a hug!) and reached my arms up to his shoulders. He’s a foot taller than me. He said “Aww…” and bent down and embraced me. As we separated, I couldn’t help kissing his cheek as it withdrew. He laughed with slight surprise and embarrassment. We parted friends. God, what a night!

  10. Thanks to both Helen and Angie for this wonderful insight into The Crucible experience. This review really made me laugh and I love your honest appraisal, Helen.

    When I saw RA in Sydney, my biggest revelation was how normal he is too. I mean that in a nice way- he is just very unassuming in the flesh and after years of thinking he couldn’t possibly be telling the truth when he said he didn’t get recognised in London, I could see that his demeanour allows him anonymity even though he is TD&H and, you would think, would turn heads everywhere.

  11. Hi, I’m going to see The Crucible for the second time in a couple of weeks. Loved it the first time but I had to rush off as soon as it had finished. This might be a really dumb question, but is just anyone allowed to go to the stage door and meet Richard Armitage? Like you don’t need a special pass or something? I never really know because at some events it’s like there’s an invisible force field around the actors and you can’t just go up and talk to them. I wouldn’t be a screaming fangirl, just a very devoted fan who would love an opportunity to meet one of her favourite actors.

    • Hi, and welcome! I am sure one of the ladies can answer better than I can, as I am over on the other side of the pond, but from everything I have seen thus far, you don’t need a pass in the case of the Old Vic, you simply join the queue at the stage door of the Old Vic and wait patiently. Everyone is describing it as a very relaxed and low-key situation. 😀 And it’s not a dumb question, because the premiere events around the world for the Hobbit films has certainly varied in terms of access to the actors. I wish you the best of luck and let us know how it all goes!! 😀

    • Hi peregrinscorner. It amazes me how many of us are/will be seeing this play multiple times. I can think of one person who, by the end of the run, will have seen it four times. I shall be going again next week. There seems to be some specific attraction but for the life of me I cannot put my finger on it *grin*.

      In answer to your question, yes, anyone can join the queue and meet the actors as they come out. There are a couple of bouncers but they do not restrict access to the actors in any way. As I and many others have said, it is all very orderly and low key.

      The stage door is down the left-hand side of the building, so if you come out the main door, turn right and right again. Judit showed me a “short cut”: it’s a fire exit that comes out very close to the stage door but you need to be in the stalls. As you are looking at the stage, it’s to the left of the front row.

      Good luck and let us know!

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