Meeting Mr Thornton

placeholder 🙂 Because yes, i just did, last night…

But unfortunately i have to work during the day and i managed to book myself solid in the evenings for the next 3 days. Sometimes i forget i’m not 20 anymore… Tonight Jamie Parker’s silken warm voice will sing from musicals at the Pheasantry, tomorrow night is Elektra press night at the Old Vic (first time back, glups.. apprehension!) and Thursday night i’m at the ROH watching Il barbiere di Siviglia , which is one of my all time favourite operas and the cast is full of lovely young singers i’ve not heard before.  All this will prevent me from continuing to watch North&South, but that is actually just right. I like to wait 🙂 But fear not, i’ll try not to leave everyone hanging for the whole week, i just want to re-watch some scenes and let the impressions settle and i’ll spill.

Until soon then and sorry for the tease 😉

screen cap, not mine, i’m sorry, pinched from here 

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An unexpected… stage door (Richard Armitage, Old Vic)

Sorry for the rather long introductions, I guess it’s a bit of warm-up writing that I do without realising it, feel free to skip ahead.

Gratuitous photo, just because i like it 😉 (by Lefteris Pitarakis at Old Vic, RA of course)

This is a bit overdue I know, but I tend to spend sometimes 10h a day at work on a pc and sometimes at the end of the day I just don’t want to see the thing anymore. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to talk at you PC and the stuff to get typed up by magic ? 😉 I  bet there is a way but I’d feel weird talking at my computer, so typing it has to be.

You could say I got the right motivation yesterday to getting on with writing 😉 I was off into town to see an Otello at the English National Opera and as often on weekends it was absolute traffic mayhem. I ended up having to get the tube in a rush and it was hot and overly crowded with tourists trying to find their way and me trying to get to where I needed to be rushing up and down stairs, corridors and escalators. And just when I was near the end of my patience, juggling my stuff and puffing air to cool down, slowly sliding down another escalator I looked at the posters running along the wall besides me and there they were… 2 Crucible posters! And there I was in a sudden bubble of calm, looking back into Armitage’s eyes and slowing looking back at the other one with eyes closed, downcast. And I turned on my escalator step and smiled 🙂

I suspect they will be gone soon altogether, but not quite yet. I almost wish I had one of them as they were the later ones with the stars from the reviews on them, while the ones the theatre sold didn’t have them. But I’m not sure I’d want one with the grime of the tube on it 😉

But it was a lovely ‘encounter’ nevertheless and took me back into the ‘zen’ feeling of this summer and out of everyday London stress.

I was telling my friend about it later that evening after the show, as we shared a pizza close to Trafalgar square, not realising the man himself was barely a few meters away watching the last of ‘Wagglestaff’s’ (sic!) Richard III at the Trafalgar studios ;-)*.

It was almost like a mini-version of the ‘encounter’ at the stage door earlier the summer, a very pleasant surprise.

It’s not like I’ve never been to stage doors before. They’re more common around the opera going folk than you might think. In my experience people don’t mind having a brief chat after a show about particulars of it, their roles, singing and such. And sometimes I’ve enjoyed the show so much I really want to say thank you personally or just say that it’s nice to hear and see somebody perform again. But that is bar a few exceptions a small world of familiar faces in familiar surroundings. I’ve grown up around this stuff, I’m rarely lost for words 😉 Besides, there are always several exits and entrances, so when people don’t feel well or just don’t feel like a chat they leave privately, so you know you’re never really intruding if you stop by a stage door.

Why do people feel the need to get closer to the artists or see them in person? I have no clue really. Some people want photos with them in it or just the artist, some people have autograph books. I guess everyone expresses their passion in different ways and needs different things to remind them of special occasions. I’m not a photo person; because I really don’t want my picture floating about everywhere I’m highly unlikely to ever show a picture of myself with some famous ‘x’ around. My face is for family and friends alone to see 😉 No need to impose it upon the world. I like sharing my experience, but I sort of don’t need much tangible proof it happened. Same usually goes with autographs on tickets. Instead, I’d much rather talk to the person as it’s usually what brings me to the stage door in the first place: I’ve enjoyed myself sososo much I just have to say how wonderful I thought it was.

Also, if you try and do the lot, photo, signature, chat it feels like a bit much, there are more people around wanting to say or have something and I also appreciate after a show artists will want their well deserved peace,  so I feel comfortable with taking a few seconds or even minutes, but not much more. There are circumstances when it’s all organised and you can’t really say hello without a Cd, a programme to sign and I have both a few Cds I absolutely love which I’ve gotten signed and a few incidental pictures I have which remind me usually of very funny moments.

Don’t get me wrong I like looking at other people’s pictures most of the time and the few signatures I have do mean a lot to me, but exchanging a few words with the artists just means more as it sort of makes it real. It means I was there that night I remember and what I saw on stage wasn’t just an illusion 🙂

The risk with such things is always that reality doesn’t always live up to the artistic experience you’ve just had. But on occasions it’s just the cherry on top, an altogether pleasant experience that makes the evening perfect. I guess it’s all in the very delicate balance of doing only what you feel comfortable with, in surroundings that you feel safe in and comfortable with and also feeling that the artists themselves are comfortable in the situation. Whether they actually enjoy the experience themselves is hard to tell, but I always assume they are grown up people, they don’t HAVE to do this if they dislike it and when they’ve had enough it is their decision to leave 🙂 It’s up to me to behave in a way I feel is respectful towards them, but that’s about as much as I can do from my side.

It all gets complicated when you don’t have 5 people having a relaxed chat with somebody, but hundreds of people wanting a 1-1 with an artist. In these situations I’ve had the worst experiences possible and, unless it was a fully organised signature session, it’s rarely been pleasant or special. In most cases crowd control was pretty rude and you get the ‘crazy fan’ treatment, which does away with any feeling of enthusiasm. Or people get so caught up in the moment they forget about the people next to them and it can get dangerous. I’ve had to extricate myself once from such a crowd with bruised ribs and feet and it’s put me off nearly forever from getting near a bigger crowd again. This means that for both our and the artist’s safety when there are loads of people barriers have to come up, frequently physical ones, and it becomes by default distanced and impersonal, which kind of does away with the reason for approaching a stage door to begin with…

With all this in mind I have to say I never even considered going to the Old Vic stage door to begin with. I don’t associate artists from the big screen with reality, well, not with my reality anyway 😉 I understand a lot about singing, but I have little clue about acting, what would I say? It was good? Well, my hands are red from clapping, what more could words say?

And I’d peeked around the corner of the building and seen the crowds, looked like a lot of people. Besides, people were saying it was getting increasingly rushed and you could read the disappointment between the lines. The show was so incredible and made me feel so much, why would I risk feeling sad after it or disappointed?

Trouble is, after seeing it more than once it becomes much more than just a show and you start wondering who these people are who can produce such performances? I’d already slipped and gushed a couple of babbling words to Adrian Schiller at the bar after 1 of the shows, but that’s 2 seconds in a place you’re already there with friends for drinks  and you haven’t sought out on purpose and not the crowds at stage door. Not ready to brave that for the ‘man-himself’ as he was so extraordinary on stage I doubted a glimpse at stage door could improve on that in any way and I was rather fearful that perfect image would get some kind of irreparable crack instead.

About mid-way through ‘my’ run a friend was going to come and see it and I knew she would like her ticket signed as a memento of the evening. I ended up promising I’d come along with her, I have to admit however fully intending to dissuade her from trying on accounts of big crowds and us having to catch last bus home. At the same time it had just been my other friends’ birthday (the one who took me to the Crucible and introduced me to the knowledge of the ‘man-himself’ in the first place!). Having failed to win the signed champagne bottle for her (duh!) I’d bought her a book with Miller’s plays as a surprise consolation present and was playing around with the idea of getting it signed, which would have made it more special. So I hadn’t given her the book yet, debating the idea and thinking that she didn’t know about it so no harm done if it was unsigned, it would still be something to link us both to the memories of the Crucible summer. I did stuff it in my bag that night as I set off to the Old Vic, just in case.

I went ahead with my plan to discourage my friend however and explained the cue was up to the front entrance and our bus would leave at 11,50 so I thought it would be unwise to try the stage door; besides it would be rushed so maybe we better just leave and just spend some time chatting at home about the show instead. She said a non-committal ‘let’s see’. ( yes I know I was being a pain!)

On with the show, which was amazing and I was lucky enough to be able to watch from the back of the stalls this time. We lingered about a bit taking in the atmosphere before leaving, looking at the ashes on the floor while people were rushing to pick up pieces of the confession; I nearly stepped on one the girls’ headscarf which had been left on the floor and picked it up taking it back to an usher who smiled surprised I didn’t want to keep it. It just felt like every scarp belonged to the show and I just couldn’t take away a bit of it, as if it just didn’t belong it my time or something. Although I continued to find pieces of ash which fell out of my clothes for a couple of days after 🙂 Maybe I had time- travelled a bit too 😉

I said ‘let’s get some fresh air’ as we both needed to clear our minds and she said  ‘oh look this door opens onto the street’ and out we went… straight into the stage door cue! I stopped on the doorstep saying ‘we’re not staying are we? I think we should be going to catch the bus’ but she’d found two other German ladies right next to us and said ‘oh we might as well stay since we’re here’. I mumbled a frustrated ‘oookay’  and since the door had closed right behind me, proceeded to lean into the corner wondering how the hell I’d ended up there. She proceeded to chat animatedly to the really nice 2 ladies and I mumbled grumpily along looking at my watch every couple of seconds impatiently. No, I can’t actually tell you how much time passed, as I didn’t really look at what I was doing other than getting really nervous. She said smilingly ‘stop complaining, we’ll be out of here in no time, I’m sure he’s coming out soon’. I felt really bad for being a right pain in the *** but I couldn’t really help myself. After all I could have insisted we leave for the bus but I had stuck around!

At which point I suddenly remembered the book! I finally had a purpose for being there. So I fumbled for it in my bag and took it out and explained to my friend what I was planning to do. It would have helped if I’d had a look at the book before as I was trying to find a half empty page somewhere at the beginning in the dark.

All the while a really nice and polite security guard had passed twice along the line asking us to please stand in one line. I had no clue where we were in line or how many more people were behind us as I was still safely tucked away in the corner of the door.

And then suddenly movement began, I figured ‘man-himself’ had appeared as the cue suddenly became restless and my view was obscured by the people to my right who were eager to take pictures and stepped in front.

Fumbling with the book I thought ‘not long now’ and told my friend to get her ticket ready to make sure she got her signature lest he rushed past and missed her. (Yep, when I’m bloody nervous I tend to order people around!).

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw him in front of the people next  to/before me in the cue, a young women and her boyfriend and there was some confusion about cameras and photos as all I could hear was RA saying: ’yes, where is the camera? Where is the camera? Where is the camera?’ They had by now both stepped in front of me and were taking pictures with phone and camera and she was asking if she could take a picture with him. After some confusion the picture was finally taken and they had turned to watch him from in front of me. Suddenly he was past them and in front of my friend who was to my left and he signed her ticket. I didn’t hear a thing as I must have been completely entranced just watching him. She told me on the way home as we exchanged impressions she’d said thanks and probably noticing her accent he’d said ‘thank you very much for coming’.

He didn’t look nearly as tall as I expected it. Don’t know why I was surprised as I’m fairly tall myself so he wouldn’t tower over me, but still I expected to have to look much higher up to see his face. The utter surprise was however how in the general excitement and buzz around me he sounded so soft and calm, with a really warm tone of voice.

I thought ‘hurray, she got the ticket signed! Phew, thank God we didn’t miss him’ and, as I was probably gawping, the strangest thing happened. He’d stopped in front of her and looked up and straight at me, smiled and took a sudden step towards me in my corner and I remembered I was still holding the book!  He’d seen it and reached for it as I extended my hand and after he signed I suddenly remembered I had a voice and broke out into ‘ it was so wonderful, thank you very much! It was so so emotional… and ..gasp.. Harrowing!’ (yes, groan.. I know! So smart and composed!) While still holding the book he’d lifted his head again, looked me in the eyes while I was mumbling, smiled and said in that warm sweet , soft voice ‘Bless you!’ … and then he was gone.  There was no rush in his gestures at all, in fact, it was almost as if he moved in slow motion, in a rhythm all of his own, with a bubble of calm surrounding him and from the moment he’d looked at me his time was all mine for those few seconds. I didn’t feel at all rushed either and he didn’t look like he was going to step away while I was talking, if only I’d thought of a few more things to say 😉 he’d let me finish my 2 thoughts, smiled and reacted to them and only then moved away.

It was really… well, wonderful 🙂  And so not at all what I had expected or thought it would be.

I think my first words to my friend were: ‘sorry I was so against this, it was actually incredibly nice, wasn’t it?’ We stuffed our things in our bags, left the cue and waited a couple of minutes for the cue to finish and lingered in front of the theatre while people left taking a few pictures of the theatre at night.

We exchanged impressions with brimming wide smiles and agreed it had been the absolute perfect ending to a perfect night! We both were very thankful for the security arrangements and the way the Old Vic managed the cue. I was happy not to feel crowded in and to come away safely with no bruised ribs and feet. Yes, it being summer and being able to cue outside helped, but it was one of the best organised SD’s I’ve ever seen. It’s difficult to handle such things and I think they did a great job. I didn’t actually have to deal with anyone else’s behaviour but my own and that is something to be said amongst so many people present.

As to the ‘man-himself’? Well, as far as I could see and feel he’s great! Don’t know really why he came out every night, but he didn’t act as if it was a chore. I believe at least a bit of it was him probably thinking of the people who were there only once, like my friend, and who would only get that one chance, maybe ever, to say hello or get a photo or a signature. And the fact that he did think of such people every night speaks greatly of him. And I think he tried his very best to give everyone something so they wouldn’t regret waiting for him.

He’s really special in the way he does it too, letting people in, with no physical barriers, sort of extending this bubble of his own comfort around you for a few seconds and it makes you feel safe, welcomed and not at all as if you are intruding. That is nice and really sweet and I hope he’s felt how thankful we are for it, that we really appreciate it and that overall it’s been a pleasant experience for him as well,  because I believe the vast majority of people wanted to do just that, be thankful and nice back and not intrude 🙂

Oh, and my friend loved her book! She didn’t even mind that the signature on it was UPSIDE DOWN!!! ( oh yes, this is how out of it I really was, I didn’t clock that if I was holding the book as if I was reading it, he’d be signing it upside down, so now she has to turn it around if she wants to read his signature…. But hey, it’s unique this way, no? 😉 )

AP/ Lefteris Pitarakis ‘man-himself’ @Old Vic

PS I don’t remember much about the way he looked that night other than his features and eyes and the gentle smile. I think he wore a chequered jacket and maybe a white tshirt? It was the 23rd of August, so if anyone would like to share any photos i’d love to look at them 😉 thank you 🙂

….

*(Richard III aside)- Which I’ve seen by the way much earlier in the year, very Tarantino-esque, especially watched while being on stage, looked at by both audience and actors. A very interesting show,  which left lasting impressions, even if these are mixed.  Its’ a different sense of responsibility you get assigned to when you are literally displayed like that on stage, with the audience being in the dark looking straight at you, not at all like being in a round.  And very different in a play like this, which by its very nature does not create a natural emotional sympathy bond.  I was busy processing and busy keeping the processing away from my face and eyes, as I was constantly catching the eyes of actors and was conscious of only wanting to transmit interest and engagement and not distract or jar in any way with any of the conflicting thoughts running through my mind. Exhausting! Just goes to show there are many ways you can have stage seating and engage with the audience. But definitely worth experiencing 🙂

Jason Bell – exhibition – Give up clothes for good

This is just of a tale in images from a drizzly Saturday afternoon ( posted here in more detail as WP is not photo-happy)

Pretty drizzly London afternoon…

Nice space, very poor lighting unfortunately where i saw more of my own reflection on the subjects in the photos..

The Opera Arcade was pretty deserted, though full of pretty things..

and this was my funky carriage, courtesy of London public transport 😉

Here are some of the exhibited photos i managed to find online, all Jason Bell! Sadly the ones i liked most i can’t find online 😦

The missing Benedict photo

Kate Winslet

Jerry Hall

loved this one due to the wood background, unusual colour for a background but works wonders with her blue dress and this is Jason Bell 🙂

Hugh Bonneville in one of my favourite images from the exhibitions, notice how cleverly the let’s beat kids cancer is inserted

also liked this interesting perspective of Elijah Wood! (never mind the nails, look at the eyes!)

Liam Neeson in the set of  4 that i loved most

Internet tells me this is Charlie Hunnam ( sorry i had no clue)… but it’s in the 4 i really liked (how does one make specs of hair appear golden in black and white? fascinating that small detail)

‘Armitaged’ and dealing with it

They say it is good to expand your vocabulary. Well, I’ve just learned and dutifully applied a new adjective: ‘armitaged’. 🙂

Couple of days after the end of the Crucible i still find myself wanting to head over to the Old Vic in the evening… so instead i headed into town for a bit of Schubert and poetry. He’s not normally my favourite composer, i like the more darker ironic style by Wolf and Schumann’s songs on Heine poems. But he fit right into the melancholy that seems to linger around this week and i think wallowing a bit in it is not soooo bad (for a little while anyway;-) ).

I love the piano in this one … (the wanderer to the moon) 

It’s strange i go about work and daily stuff and every now and then i bump into something or an image just flashes through my mind and i remember it all over again.

But hey, one image is never enough, so why don’t we indulge in a bit of a fest, courtesy of Glady (thanks very much for the collection!)

And there we go, all ‘armitaged’ again 🙂

For today the dealing method has been music, so let’s slip into the night with one of Schubert’s that i really really like (The stars):

Saying goodbye to John Proctor (Crucible, Old Vic, 13th September 2014)

Richard Armitage as John Proctor by Jay Brooks

Richard Armitage as John Proctor by Jay Brooks

I won’t. Not at the end of last night’s Crucible and actually not ever. He’s part of me now as are all the 5 performances I’ve witnessed and most definitely last night’s. I know I’ll see the play again because it is a very very good one, but Armitage will always be ‘my’ Proctor to which all Proctors will be compared 🙂 And same goes for all the other characters in it who now feel so familiar to me.

I think it is somewhat easier for the actors to cope with the end of the run than for us the audience/fans.  It is what they do, they live within and with the characters for a few months, bond with colleagues, but then invariably move on to other characters and colleagues to very likely never return to what has just ended. This loss and rebirth as someone different is part of their lives. I don’t know how they do it and haven’t seen many talk about the process (but I haven’t looked specifically), it’s probably different for each person. But they are through experience better equipped to deal with it than us.

I’m not completely unused to this, I’ve done full runs of opera performances a number of times, because I love the performance as a whole and there is joy in discovering the evolution of the piece through performances. But there are only ever 6-7 of those in a run over what is usually about a 2 – 2 ½ week period. I’ve never been so close to a performance for a period of 3 months. And it creates a very different perspective and experience. It is no longer a performance I loved, it is literally 3 months of my life. It means I’ve had time in 3 months to think about it a lot, to view things in light of what the play expresses for me, to discover the actors again and again. And they have changed over their 100 performances (thereabouts, not counted) as well.

Because I started from absolute zero in this case I could have seen quite a few more to discover more nuances, more gestures… but this is potentially an infinite cycle because they play felt slightly different every time so there is always something new to discover 🙂

There comes a time, and I think 3 months is about right, when it’s right to stop the experimentation, the exploration for the simple fact that we have to accept it is potentially endless and never enough. With plays like the Crucible and performances such as we have witnessed,  the mystery will always be there, the complexity, all that you can see and sense and the sense at the same time that there is forever more behind it, inside it that we neither fully understand nor grasp.  But that sense of familiar and unknown is what will keep it alive in our memories. If we fully understood it and explained everything about it we would be able to close the door on it and would not be tempted to go back to our impressions and memories.

So I don’t say goodbye to it, I’m just accepting the transition from being inside of it and being overwhelmed by it, to it rather being inside of me where it’s burning much slower, but where I can go back to it whenever i search for it again.

I’m happy I was there last night, to get one last taste of it, not because the atmosphere was special ( it was by far the worst audience in all I’ve been) but because in most performances I was lucky to get those expressions and variations that I loved most across the run. It felt like my personal wishlist fulfilled 🙂 And that was a wonderful treat because I never expected it!  I’d like to thank every actor on stage, I couldn’t imagine this play without either of you, I’m sorry I’m not getting round to mentioning everyone separately but it was as good as it was thanks to each of you!

Natalie Gavin’s Mary Warren is very dear to me, the way that girl fights all her fears  to try and stand up for the right thing in court is beautiful and I will never understand why people had to laugh on some nights at her desperate attempts to faint in that scene. Last night only 2 of my neighbouring torturers laughed there and that was really good, that even last night’s unsettled audience recognised how wonderful she was. I also liked the way she stood up to Proctor in the 2nd act, she  felt like a rebellious teenager having a go at her parents in the fight for growing up and being responsible. She was lucky she met with a softer Proctor last night 😉 I think it’s a beautiful, natural and very believable character and she made me like Mary every single night and yesterday more than ever.

What was special last night as well was the friendship between William Gaunt’s  Giles Corey, Neil Salvage’s Francis Nurse and John Proctor. The little exchange between Proctor and Corey in act 1 about the lumber and Proctor being allowed to call him deaf was so warm, so good natured. A very manly, warm bond, these two fully understand each other, support each other, joke about each other. It was as if seeing a chat between 2 friends in a pub after work. 2 mates who have been friends all their life. The glee in Corey when he went to snub Putnam to support Proctor in the lumber dispute and the warm, loving smile on Proctor’s face when he told Corey he paid when he sued him for the privilege to call him deaf now. A perfectly tuned double act which is so lovely to see in stage. Which took on much more poignant aspects at the end of act 2 and in the court scene, the way both Francis and Giles try to support Proctor when Elizabeth is taken with small gestures like grabbing his hand and with much bigger gestures in court. I think I was so focused on the million other things going on in this play that the profound friendship and respect these 3 men share somehow registered more on a subconscious level. Well it certainly warmed my heart yesterday and it felt so real that maybe all 3 actors let some of their mutual respect shine through in their acting.

It is where I felt last night experience shone through, at this stage in the game to make the relationships more natural is amazing. Maybe it is a way of bringing in that feeling of respect, friendship that has developed over the last 3 months within the performance. After all they probably spent most of the time together on stage, so it is natural for that to be the bonding ground or natural expression not just of acting but of some element of personal feelings of appreciation too.

Jack Ellis changed his game again and this time rather than Mr Machiavelli who I liked so much last time we got a level of authority and force that literally wiped the floor with all of us. Ok, I had a personal moment of satisfaction when it came to the moment in which he points to the audience and tells them to be silent 🙂 But what I liked most was his last act, his anger and impatience at all these people who don’t follow his orders, can’t stick to the rules of the game and ask him to be lenient. The incredible level of shouting he managed to do left everyone speechless, but it is probably the expression of the character knowing that the ground is shaking under his feet and he is unable to hold his world together. You did want to kill him though when he was telling Elizabeth she was devoid of feeling. How Anna Madeley managed not to break down in sobs at those accusing words yesterday I don’t know to be honest. But yes, I suspect that Jack Ellis’ Danforth will be the one for me to beat  (and that will be pretty impossible of you ask me). He was magnificent last night!

What can I say about Adrian Schiller that I haven’t already said, hard to believe it if I hadn’t seen it that he managed to be even more human and broken last night. My favourite moments where his conversation in the Proctor household about the softness of their records, and his last words to them “God keep you both; let the third child be quickly baptized, and go you without fail each Sunday in to Sabbath prayer; and keep a solemn, quiet way among you.” They were said which such warmth and good intention, he really is the spirit of a reverend, I liked those few words very much because they were so well meant and said. Last night when he named himself a murderer he was hardly able to speak the word it pained and shamed him so. And when asked what he was doing there and he said: to do the devil’s work! Etc etc.. I think one can safely and truly said Hale’s suffering and shame had Procterian proportions and was as touching. From where I sat I saw him falling to the floor after they have taken Proctor away, in as much pain as Elizabeth herself for loosing Proctor. Hale to you, favourite reverend of mine… I think of many ministers and priests there are in plays that I never really find convincing and sympathetic on a human level at the same time, yours made me believe that in spite of mistakes and pride he starts out with, Hale is the reverend that does have some divine light in him (in the way that would help guide and counsel people).

Anna Madeley was the one half of what was for me yesterday the perfect couple! I could not have wished for or imagined a more beautiful portrayal of their lifelong relationship. She was soft and warm, but also showed character. It was for me the best mix of all nights I’ve seen in that she may not have expressed her love in words but it was there in her first exchanges with Proctor and especially in the anger with which she spat the word ‘whore!’ every time she mentioned Abigail. And oh was it beautiful and wonderful in her almost desperate ‘when you come to know that I will be your only wife, or no wife at all!’ Sometimes you felt her exchanges in the 2nd act came out of duty, religious conviction, sense of right and wrong but yesterday it was clearly love and passion! It was not about the rules of marriage and the dos and don’ts according to the Bible it was about what she felt and what hurt her and about possession out of love (as a friend of mine aptly put it). Proctor is hers and nobody else will have him 🙂 It was so passionate and so beautiful and satisfying to see and hear. She put last night some of the passion that she puts in words in act 4 in her expressions and tones in act2. To the point where I did wonder yesterday for the first time(!!!! Which goes to show how much one can still discover even at the last minute) how Proctor does not notice just how much she loves him!

In the end scene her incessant ‘it is not for me to forgive you’ and ‘do what you will’ felt truly torturous because she loves him just the way he is and she can’t make a decision like that, how could she and it is there and then that we see what Danforth was looking to see, her begging and suffering. Aren’t she and John a marvellous pair! Both so passionate and proud and not letting those ‘dogs’ have any of their suffering and tears!

Theirs last night was a beautifully human, lifelong relationship, with hickups and difficulties as life is, but filled with love and passion and care for each other where it counts. Me meet them in a difficult time with his mistake and guilt, her having been unwell for long and feeling betrayed and both not really finding the right words to hash the problems out. But there was never any shred of doubt about their love for each other 🙂 And the romantic in me just glowed and glowed 🙂

It’s maybe silly, because there is nothing to say this is the more valid version of the interpretation, but amongst all the tragedy and ugliness in the play I always needed this element of light to be equally strong. Basically I still want something beautiful and positive to feel amongst the anguish.

And then there was Richard Armitage, the artist.

It is sad to think we will never see him again be John Proctor on stage, but my God was his wonderful last night. I don’t know if actors remember what they actually did on stage or it sort of happens to them and within them. I think if I was to wish him something I’d wish for him to remember all of his last night’s Proctor because every single second of it was beautiful.

I’ve mentioned some instances above but there were so many many more! Starting with the wistful expression on his face when he comes back home and hears Elizabeth singing and starts taking his coat off and leaves the rifle and does it all so softly as if he doesn’t want to break the spell her singing puts on him. I couldn’t see it but I’ve been told he then washed himself almost violently, as if trying to wash the sin away from himself. And what follows is a dialogue filled with both sweetness and awkwardness. There was never a more sincere and heartfelt ‘I mean to please you, Elizabeth’ said! And it was said with softness and from the heart, not argumentative or trying to convince her of his actions. It was him saying those words but actually meaning ‘I love you, Elizabeth’. And her reply sounded as if this time she did believe him. And this time she didn’t completely reject his kiss and he was particularly gentle, but alas, she does turn away .  But it makes Proctor rather sad, not angry, when he asks her to bring flowers she is genuinely surprised and he carries on ( in a bit of a romantic mood Proctor tonight) trying to engage with her again. And there his was, my favourite incarnation of Proctor in this scene, the poet! Imagine these words said as if they burst out of his heart, with abandon, enchantment almost: ‘On Sunday let you come with me, and we’ll walk the farm together; I never see such a load of flowers on the earth. Lilacs have a purple smell. Lilac is the smell of nightfall, I think. Massachusetts is a beauty in the spring!’

You really really want her to say yes, let’s go…. But as we know she’s got the worries about Salem on her mind that she is trying to speak to him about and is distracted and when she doesn’t really engage with his mood, the sadness in his ‘I think you’re sad again. Are you?’ is almost unbearable…

And so the argument starts, although this time it is almost with reluctance on both sides. And there was somewhat more disappointment in his words than anger but his hesitations only make her more angry as it is obvious he has not been completely open with her.

What then becomes increasingly obvious from their exchange with Mary is that he sense the danger and you can feel the fear in both him and Elisabeth rising, he’s so preoccupied and worried that he doesn’t even shout at Mary when she argues around about going to bed or not.

I loved their next little exchange with him sitting Elizabeth down and practically kneeling at her feet. Yes they argue but what Armitage convey incredibly well is the increasing sense of shame throughout the conversation with Elizabeth when she rather bluntly tries to explain that he’s not got the full grasp of what expectations he’s opened in Abigail. He almost squirms in discomfort and his anger is an instant expression of it. And it is so evident on both their faces how the discussion brings back what each of them felt over these 7 months, her the hurt and suspicion and jealousy and him the shame of his mistake. The way his voice quaked with guilt in these words was incredible! ‘When will you know me, woman? Were I stone i would have cracked for shame this seven month!’ and the disappointment when he asks her if she truly thinks him so base…

He can’t forgive himself but he knows within himself as he already said to Abigail that he would rather cut his arm off than touch her again, but to him Elizabeth’s questions indicate her continued distrust in his loyalty to her. His cry out of ‘I am honest!’ is so anguished and defeated as is her angry explosion about ever being his only wife. But it does feel on both sides that this is probably where many of their arguments ended before and you sense they are not listening to each other anymore and what they actually mean.

But as the other night as soon as Hale comes in they instantly bond again and the whole argument seems forgotten ( or delayed for later). All Proctors answers from now on are marked by exactly that, a deep sense of honesty. And often during the discussion with Hale he gravitates towards where Elizabeth sits and talk while holding a hand on her chair, especially when he speaks of the baptism of his children.

Particularly poignant was the exchange during the commandments, John is obviously nervous but Elizabeth’s addition of ‘adultery’ is not as harsh as on other night, it comes in an accepting tone and so is his reaction, his tone is low and restrained and both their stances say, our problem is private and only for us two to share. It is endearing as I’ve never felt their convergence at that instance before. And with every word then onwards his protective instincts rise  and he never leaves Elizabeth’s side. Whereas his attitude has been somewhat subdued until now, his anger and his tone of voice rises with each exchange. Whatever weakness there may have been it is gone.

The way he rages against Hale, everyone, hoping against hope they will not take her. Their separation at the end of act 2 is almost as painful as the last, he holds on with both hands to her arms, higher up but gently as not to crush her and the desperation on his face is enormous, the look they exchange is so silent and powerful and the way he pleads crying almost that he will come to save her was incredible! It is almost a reversed situation from what we see at the very end when he is the strong one and Elizabeth lies crying in his arms. The way he begs and fights with them not to chain her is horrendous, his voice a mixture of tears and anger.

Any of the words and lines and expressions in the whole act 2 could be marvelled at in their perfection. I could rewatch that act the way I saw it a million times and still be touched by every breath. If I knew nothing more of John Proctor I would admire him and pity him and feel with him both in anger and in pain.

And his choice is easily made, once Mary reveals Abigail threatened to accuse him, he means to do anything and everything drag himself down with Abigail but Elizabeth must be saved. The conviction he expressed there is final, it is the point I think when he decides his life is worthless, he cannot be saved and is rotten ( as he says to Elizabeth later in act 4).

Act 3 was another high wire balance between striking the right level of respect in his tone to make himself heard and loosing the grip on his anger and fear in the light of the absurd and violent goings on. The mix of disgust and fear that races through his voice and stance when he talks about Abigail wanting to dance with him on Elizabeth’s grave is so telling of how appealed he is now at the consequences of his mistake. He realises and I think he finally understands what Elizabeth was trying to tell him earlier because for the first time he calls Abigail a whore with the same conviction Elizabeth has done before.

Also telling his little gestures when they bring in Elizabeth and although he can’t see her, they seem to gravitate instinctively towards each other, at first his head is bowed and then as she speaks openly and he thinks she will share the whole story he almost seems to want to give her courage, he straightens and lifts his head at her voice almost bringing himself physically closer to her.

And from then onwards he proceeded to create an act 4 of such intensity and beauty that I will be forever amazed I saw something like it on a live stage. From the instance he came dragged in and saw Elizabeth and just froze and how she looked at him and leaning into her, touching with gentleness and amazement with his tortured extended fingers her belly and the child within, to leaning towards her and talking to her in the softest of tones.

Then he rose up while still looking broken (how does one manage to do that???) with extended pleading hands towards heaven crying ‘God, what is John Proctor?’ Those few lines always torture me as he proceeds to move almost like a beast in a cage talking about himself as fraud, as doing evil. His voice melds disgust and determination in equal measures while his body contorts expressing the inner struggle that comes with his decision. It is awful and riveting to behold as it seems like it should be impossible to be this and say these things and yet it happens before your eyes!

And he continues by crawling towards the table, shying away in shame from Rebecca by bowing even further down and turning his neck and face, trying to cover it with his blood streaked hands. It hurts to even remember the images, it was like watching a beaten, tortured animal writhing in front of you.

The suddenly the transformation happens and he  becomes man again with ‘You have all witnessed it is enough.’ The whole weight of the world lies in that one little word, enough! It is hard to describe how he weighs the word down and makes it sound like so much of torture, lies and encompasses everything in it, it doesn’t mean stop, it means no more lies, no more abuse, no more authority. It is in a way a mirror of ‘God is dead’. What he means is ‘this ends now’. And he repeats it again and again and again with ever more conviction and with every time he raises up and the voice becomes firmer and John Proctor becomes of a strange and riveting beauty in his transformation.

I can’t describe it with any other word than beauty, like the most beautiful painting (which may well be of a tortured saint), or very much like a Rodin statue. It is what he has most reminded me of in this final scene. Voice rising and muscles along his neck and shoulders twisting, sinews straining at every word supporting the body from inside by sheer force of will. It is of a frightening beauty, a very human and extremely powerful beauty.  And it’s impossible to look away.

And then he turns towards Elizabeth and she falls weeping on her knees  at his feet. With a tear shredded voice he tells her not to let them have her tears and arm shaking lifts her from her knees to way way up high above his head and brings her gently down into the kiss, spins her in a powerful hug around, kisses her again and after trying to quickly support Rebecca in passing bring his hand back to Elizabeth’s arm and while they start dragging him away, looking deeply into her arms….. he smiles at her. The most serene, beautiful, blissful smile one can imagine which illuminates his cheeks and sets his eyes alight and the smiles stays there until he disappears into the darkness beyond.

And it’s the last image we see of John Proctor, his smile.

Richard Armitage was John Proctor and I have witnessed it 🙂