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.)
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 . . .]
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 . . .]
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
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
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!]
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!