An Embarrassment of Riches

Update: Don’t think i’ve shared this bit of my Crucible experience so far… I’d never seen RA before live or otherwise bar a 1 time viewing of DOS from which i didn’t remember all too much (especially since i hadn’t seen anything Hobbit related either before seeing DOS that one time). I was aware from comments that there would be a shirtless scene in the play, but as you can gather from previous posts the play itself had a much larger impact on me.

The first time i saw it i sat in the circle and it was all a lot to take in. I remember one of many comments i made to a friend after seeing it was around being puzzled why so many people thought RA was handsome/attractive as i didn’t quite get it although i was after this 1st experience thoroughly impressed by him as an actor. I told her i thought the power of the look in his eyes was amazing as it reached me all across the theatre. But that i was surprised at people describing him as handsome. I thought it was a matter of personal taste and that was that. But i loved the play a lot and was intrigued enough that i wanted to experience it from closer up to see what impression that would leave on me. So, i went looking for another ticket since that had been my only one and was lucky enough to still find one on the right hand side next to what used to be the edge of the stage before the ‘in-the-round’ set up. I also realised i would probably be looking mostly at his back as it was quite far on the right hand side.

I won’t go into all the detail of how being this close to the stage felt like being part of it, starting with the scary sensation of being looked at eye to eye by the actors in the intro to the play. What i wanted to say was that being this close i was suddenly able to see RA’s face while he was acting and look at his body, his shape. Ahaaaaa, interesting, there is suddenly something there. I really like that nose! And he really is tall… The eyes are mesmerising! (All this was running almost like secondary commentary in my mind while the play captured my full attention, as before).

By act two i had forgotten about the upcoming scene and was fully immersed in the plot. I could smell the stew and almost feel the warmth from the fire when suddenly Proctor appeared deeply breathing from the dark, an almost intimidating, dangerous figure! he put gun and whip away, took his coat off, came to warm himself by the fire, adjusted the stew for salt and then took his shirt off to wash. He turned away from me as i was almost at the end of the table and i had a full view of his shoulders and back in the golden light of the fire. I remember thinking how very much like a farmer he looked, he appeared to be both slim and strong at the same time. I was completely surprised by how soft, immaculate and smooth his skin looked and then he turned around and stood there fully facing me for a few seconds. And i stopped thinking, or breathing, or swallowing or blinking… I lost track of time and didn’t snap back until his voice rang out softly talking to Elizabeth.

I got it then. Yes, he is indeed beautiful. No doubt about that in my mind now and very satisfying to have that puzzle resolved. 🙂

…..

Too busy to clock on that there was a new discussion going on. Always amazes me how much time people have to get bothered about stuff that actually was never taken out of context, is perfectly artistic and well thought of in terms of the play itself. It is/was beautiful and made total sense and was great to look at, as was the rest of 99% of the play. Farmers wash after hard work, get over it! I can’t believe in this day and age still think we shouldn’t look or talk about this but it’s ok to look at the news for example.. Besides, a play is a reflection of an artistic concept and it is put on stage to be watched, heard and talked about! That is what all good stage work aspires to, it is there because it has meaning, because it was intended to be presented and make us watch and think. Don’t like the play or any of its parts or the way it represented John Proctor, don’t watch it. But make the choice for yourself, not for others.

And now i’m going to see if i can make it to any of the 2,3 re-runs of this in the cinema still available around me which continue to remind me that i am undeservedly and incredibly lucky to experience this! 🙂

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I’m not sure where they came from but screen caps from the Digital Theatre production of The Crucible hit the fandom sometime over the weekend (no, I generally don’t pay attention, why do you ask?) followed shortly by a predictable dust-up about them. A fan page that posted them to Twitter had to explain themselves on Facebook yesterday because, gasp, the screen caps were of a half nekkid Richard Armitage and didn’t they know that was “objectification” and “disrespectful”?

Uh…come again?

You do realize that he took his shirt off approximately 101 times during the run of The Crucible, right? And you further realize that HE’S AWARE he took his shirt off approximately 101 times during the run of The Crucible, right? And you further realize that HE WAS AWARE that he was being filmed, right? He was also aware that he was baring his assets during Spooks, Strike Back, and Between the Sheets, AND…

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The Crucible #OneLastTime

continued from here.

(gratuitous London photo, Southbank on a full moon night)

(gratuitous London photo, Southbank on a full moon night)

A few thoughts about the Crucible kept bouncing round and some i included in the comments on the previous post, so i decided to include them here and expand a bit.

I didn’t want the previous post to sound as a bleak story of Eastern Europe, which it is not. I know ultimately i am lucky and i also understand that things were not black and white. I hope readers understand that this is just a very personal view and by no means an interpretation of the play or its impact or what i expect people would feel seeing it. I hesitated for a long time if to write about this at all and have done so only partially as in a way the play was only a trigger and the thoughts about the past have many motivations. I just wanted to capture some of the more personal reasons why the Crucible meant a lot to me. It’s because it felt like this to me that i genuinely wonder what it meant to other people and how it impacted audiences based on their very different experiences… And i hope people will continue to share their thoughts once the download becomes available.

I guess the other thing i wanted to say was that i felt the play as presented, directed and acted was emotionally truthful. I think it is possible it felt a bit OTT to first time viewers maybe, but i just wanted to share my opinion on that matter and say that it felt very real to me and by no means exaggerated. It’s where i admire Farber’s work most, that she avoided the temptation to use a sledgehammer to drive things home and instead went for unabashed, committed emotional engagement. And i think it is the truthfulness of it that sinks in gradually through the play and drags the audience in. Every piece of the play was necessary to produce the effect, the direction and every single actor.

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It’s impossible to capture all thoughts i had about the play and the characters (i noticed that even the 5th time at the cinema i still kept thinking about what i was seeing in slightly different ways, or rather considering aspects and flashes of images or character reactions i hadn’t focused on before quite the same way), but i should have probably pointed out in the previous post and i failed to do so that the character that i identify with the most is not Proctor, but Hale. And the past plays a big role in it, i’d put life above all other values too (which is why my own conclusion about the past is that it should not be a blame game, everybody lied for safety – but where my own dilemma lies and my own doubts, is in the lack of consideration and learning and thinking about the past and understanding it). The play forced me to think about and accept some things, including the fact that i would never be a person of action. But it reminded me that my life today is owed to those who did act and i should not allow myself to be as complacent as i’ve been, that the least i should do is try to make a difference. I know it all sounds like a big pile of… but it does matter to me and all i can say is i am trying. (Aside – interesting, i wrote all this before the recent events but they don’t change my view of things at all. It only re-enforces my conviction that we can never sit back and let things happen, that there is always a place, a way, somewhere, someplace we can make a difference.)

I also thought for most of the time all elements were equally weighted in the play and i still think that if any one of the actors would not have been as good as they were, the whole would not have been as brilliant. The strength of the Crucible@OldVic manifested itself in everyone’s commitment to make it real, recognisable, identifiable, but the strength and message of the play goes beyond that. Having seen a bit more of it recently i believe it is so inspiring because it not only shows us what we can easily recognise from around us, but also what we don’t encounter every day, the people who are extraordinary or become that (outgrow their faults?). And that is Proctor 🙂 I think we need people like Proctor and that was even within the play the hardest journey to make.  Miller meant for Proctor to grow, to stand out in this community, to conflict, confront and ultimately inspire.

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I’m a fan, so this is probably very biased by now, but i think it takes somebody special to make somebody as extraordinary as Proctor this believable. I didn’t necessarily feel he was ‘special’ the first time i saw it, i almost felt like Salem itself was it with him just being one of the more prominent ones among the people of Salem, even though by the end he weighs in more. It was by no means love at first sight with either the character, or RA. Maybe this is why i now feel  so strongly about his artistry, why i’m so certain about his talent, his work ethic, even the fact that he seems to be a really decent person. It’s the logical conclusion in the face of accumulating facts or evidence i saw with my own eyes, of pieces of the puzzle falling neatly together into a convincing picture. I was convinced, drawn in again and again, resistance slowly crumbling 😉

It’s interesting that Proctor as a character grew on me through time and now in retrospect it speaks to me of his ability to be subtle in his acting; that he managed to trace the path from one of the main members of the community to outspoken leader in a way, it’s that change that made him a hero/leader for me. But it is also his ability to make me accept human error and flaws, to see Proctor for who he is and still be inspired by his final choices. For example, with every viewing the desire he feels for Abigail became more evident, impossible to hide in act1 and still we understand that he’s determined to overcome it and conquer it if you will in act 2, where he truly communicated loyalty to Elizabeth. I like that fact that we can still doubt if it is love he feels or it’s all just loyalty and it only really becomes clear by the end, as Proctor himself i guess recognised it for what it is 🙂 It’s the most fascinating portrayal of external display of authority and certainty about his place in the community and conflict and insecurity about his inner self and his place and role in his private/family life. Yes, RA you are a master of weaving personalities out of convictions, principles and conflicting passions. It’s the complexity of it that made me come back for more and the fact that in some ways Proctor still remained a mystery, an aspiration which will make him an unforgettable character to have known.

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The other day i saw my last Crucible, in the cinema. There will be downloads and more viewings i am sure, but as far as the close up experience is concerned, this was the last bit of it. I’m not really sad, i feel more as sense of contentment and almost accomplishment, it’s embossed in my mind and my thoughts. I’ve experienced it and i am very grateful that it is part of my memory in a way that i will always be able to cherish it.

It was the perfect last viewing, small cinema screening but, unlike before Xmas, the cinema was nearly full with a mix of people who had seen it live and wanted to relive it and those who didn’t know anything about it. It was a very attentive public and nobody seemed to feel the need to fuel themselves up with drinks or noisy food 😉 At interval there was still lively chatting and loud commenting somewhere behind me about the volume of speech from some of the actors, some mentions of Daniel Day Lewis and a certain film and a repeated stating (in light of the poster displayed on screen at interval) of ‘who is this? Richard Armitage, don’t know him, he’s ok’ .. followed by the mention of the film with DDL. All this took place in total darkness as the cinema staff apparently had no clue about the interval. And bar two people who nipped out briefly and came rushing back still during the interval, nobody even got up from their seats! The music for the 2nd part started and the cinema descended again in silence  and you wouldn’t have been able to tell people were sitting there watching as there was not the smallest of sounds all the way till the end. In fact, Proctor chose to keep his name, kissed Elizabeth and stepped away to his death, the play ended, the applause came and went and nobody moved, nobody made a sound… The credits came and people remained in their seats in utter silence and only towards the end started to get up slowly, gather their things and left the cinema in utter silence… Not one word was spoken and everyone left slowly, thoughtfully …. I’ve never experienced this anywhere in either theatre or cinema before, the silence and at the same time the intense emotion that hovered there in the air… so overwhelming that nobody dared to speak. Silence speaks louder than words sometimes they say.

I couldn’t begin to guess what people thought or felt, but i have no doubt whatsoever that everyone was deeply touched. And so was i, it never failed to make me feel a lot, every single time i saw it and all those feelings continue to stay with me.

Proctor’s tortured face and ultimately serene, emotional eyes will haunt me for a long time i think. And once a feeling of peace settled at the end as i was walking home in the dark, an image came into my mind. In my mind i was able to extend my hand and cradle that snot and blood stained, rough bearded, tear streaked and pale make-up caked cheek, gently wipe away the moisture with the tip of the thumb and whisper while looking into those eyes :’Thank you.’

Follow me into… murder?

Main cast of Hannibal, from left to right: Dancy (Will Graham), Dhavernas (Alana Bloom), Fishburne (Jack Crawford), Abrams (Brian Zeller), Chorostecki (Freddie Lounds), Park (Beverly Katz), Thompson (Jimmy Price), Mikkelsen (Hannibal Lecter).

I was going to write mass-murder but i didn’t really want my blog connected to who knows what searches so i wasn’t cheeky enough to take the joke that far. But it is the questions of the day for sure after it has recently been announced that  RA will join NBC’s Hannibal in Season 3 in the terrifying role of Francis Dolarhyde (aka The Tooth Fairy)  – the main villain of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon Warning about opening the links to spoilers and well, gory details.

I shouldn’t have read that before eating the recently arrived fresh pizza, it’s now sitting a bit square in my stomach…

Look, this is by no means an attempt to have a clear opinion, i’m just dumping the fuddle duddle from my brain onto here in the hope that i can forget about it and carry on watching Robin Hood which i have just started at the weekend (and S3 is just waiting for me now to continue). But it will bug me now that i know about it, so here are my various thoughts on it as they are today.

Let’s start by admitting I’m a bit of an addict of detective type series, i’ve read them since i was pretty small and continue to watch them on TV. Every possible CSI, Bones, Wallander, Sherlock, Elementary, the Blacklist and others (to call out a few recent ones), you name it, i watched it. But not just those, i watch/ed the much darker stuff too, Criminal Minds (yes all 9 seasons, in fact i’ve got yesterday’s recorded ready to watch) and i have watched the entire S1 of Hannibal (alongside the Following). Some of the latter ones grab you and trap you so you watch until there is some resolution (ie because you hope for a positive outcome).

But i don’t like horror movies or TV series. I don’t like to be scared (i even watch Sleepy Hollow for example with the lights on). I don’t mind some suspense, even uncertain outcomes, but to still enjoy/be interested in watching a program i need the human element to prevail.

Obviously my preference for detective series over time comes from the need of knowing that good will prevail or that problems can be solved and likely from wanting to have the feeling of being protected. I can deal with quite a bit of gore as long as it is mostly in a forensic context as the science aspect fascinates me. It’s about catching the killer and never about being fascinated with the killer. Which is the reason why i stopped watching Hannibal beyond S1 (or The Following), it was too dark, to evil really for my psychological sanity. It disturbed me too much and stuck to me like something awful just at the edge of consciousness so i stepped away from it. Having said that i watched The Fall (Anderson, Dornan) absolutely riveted and that’s a case where both policewomen and killer fascinated me (one of the best and most interesting TV series i’ve seen recently); it is all about psychology and reasons why and very cleverly revealed step by step. I guess it just stays on my acceptable side of humanity, it’s not made the journey to the complete, extreme beyond-reason. It’s not deliberately out to shock you, stun you with terror.

That’s not to say i haven’t watched things that have scared me or made me very uncomfortable.  I’ve watched a lot of war drama and one could argue reality is much worse than any fiction could be. I’ve also watched Seven for example and Silence of the Lambs and both i probably shouldn’t have as the mere thought disturbs me still. Interestingly enough i think i may have watched Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde, probably not the entire thing as i don’t recall it, but definitely quite a bit as i immediately recognised that image of Fiennes in the wiki link above and it made me recoil (and i remember the tatoo).

The question is not if he should do it. Of course he should if he has decided he wants to/can. Actors have to be much braver than average you and me. I love RA as an actor and a big part of it is precisely because i admire how determined he is to challenge himself, to push against his own boundaries and explore these in depth. I have no doubt his blood curdles just as much as mine and his stomach churns at who he is about to embody, all the more reason to appreciate his bravery in attempting to take himself there. I fully understand why for an actor it is very important to explore all the pits and extremes of humanity, the positive ones, like Proctor, and the darkest ones like this role. I admire both Fiennes and Hopkins for their evil characters as much as i do for their more positive ones 🙂 I am sure it has made them even better actors.

Also, the series is very popular (see titles above, there is an increasing abundance of this genre on TV these days and a growing audience). I think i am lucky in that although i enjoy the type of drama (murder mystery) i have not yet been completely desensitised to the level of violence (physical and psychological) depicted, which is ever increasing together with the growing appetite of the audience for it. And while i think it is brave for an actor to take himself on a journey from man to almost beast, i’m not comfortable with charting that journey myself.

I’ve got other more prosaic/realistic questions (APM protection mode ahead ;-)) Ever the doubtful, i am slightly concerned that this is a bit of physical typecasting. I wasn’t happy reading in the Tv article linked above about the hulking, burly, teeth business. I hope they decided to cast him for his acting chops primarily and not his physical body type, but i wonder… I’ve always wanted to see him do a baddie, but i thought more of a brainy baddie than a burly, very physical one if you know what i mean (biting noises in my head… ). He’s mentioned how much he liked Fargo and although i didn’t like it nearly as much (precisely for the everyman into killer twist), this is not something in that sort of vein but much gorier, brutal. I would have been more fascinated by something as psychologically twisted but fascinating as a journey as Fargo (in fact that’s the sort of baddie i would have been more interested in exploring). There is (don’t hit me please) precious little original about Dolarhyde as a villain (abused becomes abuser and the epitome of the worst of the worst, beyond reason and any shred of humanity).

Also, as you can probably read through the lines above, while i consume massive amounts of murder mystery, i’m deeply uncomfortable and concerned  with the growing trend towards ever viler, gorier, more inhuman violence which seems to make it acceptable/normal. In fact i’ve found less and less in this genre that i actually enjoy watching because it seems to be a race in who can do the worst.

I’ve also got a slightly smaller worry about what the role will do to him, but it’s only 6 episodes and i’m confident something else will come along and he’ll launder himself of the character soon enough 😉

So, will i follow? Will i (be able to) watch?

I don’t know… Unfortunately just reading the wiki page and seeing that image of Fiennes as the character has already triggered some scary thoughts and pictures in my mind (too much imagination!). I’ve stopped watching the series precisely because it made me so uncomfortable and also because the evil just spun in on itself. In order to follow the character i’d have to watch the full series to properly understand where they are going…

Curiosity killed the cat and that’s precisely what i am afraid will happen to me. That the curiosity about wanting to see him act will get the better of me and i will watch (and i know already it will be intense) and then i’ll have the image of some big evil monster literally gnawing through my brain forever… Will i be able to see/think of Proctor, Thorin without getting the monster in there too? I’m most afraid of those precious imprints being tainted by other images that i won’t be able to stop…

And these are my honest thoughts at the moment, uncomfortable as they are… disturbing enough that in the end i haven’t continued watching Robin Hood tonight as this occupied the little free time i had.

But there’s another day tomorrow (and another argument to be had about another baddie who puts babies out in the forest…and has tatooes… and is an assassin… no biting so far 😉 )

Edit – Extras (or recommendations for murder-mystery junkies like me)

I thought since i mentioned various stuff i might as well recommend some i watch/ed and enjoyed for those among you into the genre and to point out that the stuff out there is very varied indeed.

Favourites over last year:

True Detectives – brilliant, absolute highlight with amazing Harrelson and McConaughey, great script, plot, everything, brilliant location, i felt sticky and hot just watching it was so well made and real; go for it! It’s psychologically intense with a lot of character insight.

Fargo – definitely an interesting and somewhat original concept with Freeman at his best and different self 🙂

Broadchurch – great script, even better acting from Tennant and Colman; In fact i am not sure they shouldn’t have stopped at S1; it was so good that 2 eps into S2 i feelt S1 is very hard to live up to, but we will see.. acting still great from all cast in fact; A lot of background and community insight, complex and very human.

The Escape Artist – again Tennant and again at his very best; i loved this because it was very controversial, primetime and original in many ways; It was probably the most tense thing i’ve seen 15/10, off the scale and it is all in the viewer’s mind, not prompted by any visual gore at all; Which is why i think it was particularly good; the art of keeping the audience on edge without turning their stomachs and instead taking them to unusual moral grounds.

The Fall – riveting and so so good, Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan (she’s the cop, he’s the killer). Such interesting characters, not what you would expect and i marvelled at every episode how good it can be on such a low budget. S2 has just finished and i’m as excited about S3 as i was about S1 and S2. Little to no gore at all but plenty of psychological pits to fall in.

What i’m watching now

Some of which are 2nd seasons of last year’s new stuff-

The Blacklist – James Spader is brilliant and the idea is pretty original in mix, but it lives and breathes through his character. Interesting and controversial premise (which i like), quite on the edge tension wise. Almost in my upper tolerance level, but just, it’s episodic and the character development is strong throughout the series to keep you interested beyond some extreme tension moments. It’s in S2 at the moment, mid break and i can’t wait to see what’s next, one which has managed to be just as good in S2 as in S1.

Criminal Minds – oldie by now but still goldie, for me it still works as they managed to build a great actor team and the script continues to be good and fresh even after many seasons. A tough watch sometimes but once you get used to the format you learn that they keep carefully within a thin boundary.

Stalker – new on board so to speak, sort of fresh subject, well enough written so that it kept me guessing for quite a while about the main characters and still keeps me guessing at times. Dylan McDermott  does a great job in it and of the new stuff this is the only one which really caught my attention.

Elementary – S3 now and i haven’t missed an episode, very clever modernisation of the Sherlock Holmes idea with Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu and Aidan Quinn. Witty fun with great casting (they kind of brainy stuff that really entertains me)

There’s repeats of a lot of stuff but the above are the things i made sure i recorded (to avoid any add breaks) and sat down and watched with eyes peeled. The is also Sherlock of course but that is on/off as they get round to filming it and some i like better than others. Let me know if you have any suggestions of things you have enjoyed 🙂

Looking back some more at 2014 (yes, the Crucible, finally)

Sorry for the unintentional cliff-hanger, but my fingers needed some rest and so did my brain after reliving quite a bit of the past year. I’ve also decided to continue in a new post once I realised the length of the previous.

So where was I? Ah, here.

Sorry for pinching the photo/cap. I wasn't able to find where i got it from, so if it belongs to you please let me know and i will credit appropriately.

Richard Armitage & Adrian Schiller The Crucible Old Vic 2014 (Sorry for pinching the photo/cap. I wasn’t able to find where i got it from, so if it belongs to you please let me know and i will credit appropriately.)

And then there was the epic & life changing! Or life with and after The Crucible.

There have been a few things over the years that I have seen and which I know I will always remember, but the ones with a permanent impact on the way I feel and thing are very few (I’m strictly speaking about live performances here).

Seeing Wagner’s Ring for the first time I think is something that makes an impact on anyone who experiences it. It certainly was the first time I lost sleep over performances for prolonged periods of time, but I saw 3+ full ones over a period of just 3 weeks and a lot of it had to do with the cumulated impact of it and the sense of accomplishment and shared depth of experience, especially the very last Gotterdammerung, it felt as if we had been on a journey together with everyone on stage, in the pit and also the production team. It didn’t completely change the way I understand Wagner’s music but it made a significant impact, the journey had begun before that as the Ring was almost the last of his operas I discovered. It was also one of the productions I’ve enjoyed most, The Crucible had the sense of shared journey and physical impact of long hours spent in a theatre in common.

But while musically Wagner and especially the Ring was more pushing against some boundaries and expanding on existing experience, the Crucible proved to be something else entirely.

It came about as an almost random decision to see some theatre at the suggestion of a friend. As I have mentioned before, I’ve seen far less theatre in my life and am much less familiar with plays, especially those which can be considered contemporary. I’d started dipping my feet back into theatre a couple of years ago in London and discovered that I was generally comfortable enough with the language so that it wasn’t a barrier at all in enjoying the plays, not even in what Shakespeare was concerned. I also found acting I had experienced on London stages natural and unselfconscious which started changing my previous impressions of live performances. As as you now know from my previous posts 2014 was the year when theatre provided me with some amazing experiences already, so I was revved up to see a play I hadn’t experienced before and also discover the Old Vic.

I can’t claim it was either the play or any actor in particular that made me buy the ticket, it was the element of novelty and my exploration of theatre in general. I suspect the combination of excitement, what you could probably call an open mind and the complete lack of knowledge about the piece (I knew of Miller but didn’t know the play) created the perfect conditions for a truly unique and surprising experience.

It was the start of a few journeys…

  • A very personal one of remembrance and rediscovery of personal and family past lived under conditions which were in many ways similar to what the play depicts;
  • One of reassessing cultural and social values, beliefs about what art means in society and as a consequence for me personally
  • And discovery of a new passion for a particular actor, his fandom and all that this encompasses 🙂

All these things literally invaded my mind from the first night I saw the play, all at once I might add and it felt like I couldn’t turn either brain or emotions off. The reason I mentioned the Ring before was because it’s the only other thing that left me unable to sleep for many days and where I would not feel tired at all and wide awake, in a prolong state of emotional excitement? 😉 A gentle way of describing it I guess. Except this was much more. It wasn’t easy to process this and focus on daily things at the same time; but in a way you shut things off as much as you can during work and so on and it invades you back as soon as your mind is not otherwise engaged, ie mostly at night.

I’m not sure if it was a good or a bad thing to keep going back to it over the summer, I saw the first one early in July and the last one mid September (the last performance of the run). For my own sanity I was glad the run stopped there 😉 and some of the journeys I’d been on I felt I could now close off or at least I had come to some conclusions, while others would go on way beyond any run of theatre.

Having said that normality was not restored for long,  as BOTFA kicked in and the Crucible came back in the cinemas in what proved to be an all to short time from the run in the theatre. And I ended up seeing it almost as many times as I had in the theatre. Christmas break I guess saved me from myself 😉

The first time I saw the Crucible it felt shocking to see on stage and hear spoken back at me discourses and the kind of rhetoric I had thought buried in the past, done with. It had all ended 20 years ago and truth be told I never looked or thought back at it. Life had moved on so much, but suddenly it all felt so real again, all lies and twisted logic, intimidating, frightening and very present. Everything inside me recoiled and was screaming ‘no!no!no!’. The oppression, the corruption fear brings in society, everything all too familiar. It may not have been religious in nature, but it certainly was very similar. The way it brings out the worst in people and highlights every character flaw, the way some people will play along and use oppression to achieve their own goals, the way everything is tainted by lies.

And it reminded me of all the other lies, the silences, the things that never got talked about and still aren’t, the fact that we had learned to live with it, with all the twisted ways and the whispers about the people who disappeared. It’s the bad things that came back first, I guess because they represented a majority of reality. But once I got over the first shock of recognition I went back to the last act, to RA’s Proctor and he reminded me of terrible stories unearthed once the turn had come, but also memories from my childhood, shreds that I had never pieced together at that age and things that happened around me but were not discussed . There had been a whole generation, that of my grandfather, who didn’t grow up with the lies, who knew a different life and never came to accept what had become. And I remembered how he used to listen to the radio at night, how he went to church on Sundays all his life although it was frowned upon, how him and his friends used to get together and talk, not whisper. Sadly he didn’t get to enjoy freedom for very long as right before the change the regime tore down the house he had built with his own hands and he never quite recovered from the pain. But this summer I’ve spent a lot of time remembering him and pieced together a different image than just that of a loving grandfather, an image of the man he was, different from the people who had been changed by living in a twisted world. He was a farmer by the way 🙂 Yes, John Proctor, or rather Armitage’s John Proctor helped me find my way back to him and they were in many ways similar. It has made me sad to remember many of the things in the past, but it made me feel mostly frustrated and disappointed in myself that I had not thought about them before, considered the consequences, not to judge (as who’s to judge what people end up doing for survival?) but to learn and realise that we have to accept the past and understand it to prevent it from ever happening again.

All of this didn’t happen over night 🙂 It was lucky I was able to go back again and again and see the play and think some more over a long period of time. And it was interesting to observe the reaction of the public to it. I still don’t know how people perceive it, how much of it feels real to them? Between Miller, Yael and all the actors I felt every night the story was real, playing right in front of me with the same intensity. I can’t imagine a better interpretation or one closer to what real life is like under such circumstances. I can only hope it impacted people who have been lucky not to experience anything similar in their lives and that it helped the audience understand a bit how oppression, fear work and how hard it is to fight against the flow. How precious the normality that we know is and how fragile it can be. Therein lies for me the power of art, to remind, to show, to make us feel things we otherwise wouldn’t, to say and do the things we can’t in normal life. It may sound a bit cliché but I felt the Crucible was one of those plays that really can change things, such as it was presented at the old Vic it had to be seen, it had to be felt. I don’t know if it is what they set out to achieve but I think it is what happened in the end.

The way Richard immersed himself in Proctor, all guns blazing, heart, skin and soul reminded me that where I lived among those who had spoken out and couldn’t really be silenced were many artists, writers, actors, singers. They are people who have a stronger inner fire I think, whose aspiration for the ideal does not drown as easily in normal life; whatever it is that drives them, they are able to gather our wishes and thoughts and express them and inspire us to follow. The often dare to do or say what we only think. We need them to remind us of the best in us I think. At least Richard’s Proctor reminded me of that and of many artists in my past who had made a difference where others couldn’t.

Which is why, even if I may never again experience something quite like this Crucible I owe it to myself to put myself out there, experience things, go see theatre, read books I haven’t, absorb art, let it challenge me, let it change me, think about it and talk about it 🙂 I’ve come to the conclusion after all the pondering that I’m anything but brave, but that as much as I can I will try not to let silence be an option in things that matter.

There was a lot more in the play that touched me and the personal and intimate level really connected with me too and I think the actors were as brave to plays this intimacy so real as they were convincing in the big gestures, it made them human, believable. Without the personal connections, the support, love and friendship the important gestures would not be possible either and this is also something I took away from the Crucible.

If I sound like I need a shrink after all this, don’t worry 😉 As the badge I’ve gotten from a dear friend as a gift on my dreaded birthday this year says: “friends! So much cheaper than a psychiatrist :-D”

I haven’t done the Crucible alone but with friends; I blame my Armitageitis on a friend, as I keep reminding her of, since she insisted we buy the tickets and another one gave me hers thus enabling more Richarding ;-); I owe the only face to face encounter to yet another dear friend . And I found new ones on the journey too, to share the Crucible with, and Richard and many other things. It’s lead to silly and fun things like standing in the cold for hours at the BOTFA premiere, to ruinous things like the many BOTFA viewings! (Rich, you owe me a pair of your chic socks!), to hopefully good things like reviving my blogging, to definitely great things in discovering I have more than a passing passion for photography 😉 and positive things like ‘spreading some love’. So thanks to all you lovely ones and the current readers and future ones, you’ve saved me a massive bill!

And make me smile every day 🙂

So, not an easy year but a busy one, a very intense one in fact, leaving me feeling energised and more purposeful and very enriched and very very grateful for it.

Thank you everyone who has been part of the journey and hope you’ll all be there for a while longer 🙂

Aaaah… before I forget, thanks Richard for inspiring me in so many ways! A pleasure bumping into you on the journey and hopefully see you soon 🙂

(well, in fact there is this BOTFA IMAX thing tomorrow.. but that’s for 2015 😉 )

Looking back at 2014

somebody who joined me on the journey in 2014 ;-)

somebody who joined me on the journey in 2014 😉

It’s been quite the year! By the end of it a lot of things had happened that I could have never predicted and I feel very different at the end of 2014 than I did at the end of 2013…

It’s not necessarily been a happier year, but I feel more balanced and certainly more grateful at the end of it. I feel in a strange way … (.i almost said grown up but that is not it, in many respects quite the contrary!) reinvigorated, refreshed, with more things to hold on to on the journey.

Firstly, there is the realisation that nothing is more important or precious than the health of those we love, and our own as well to be able to enjoy it with them. So I am grateful for being ok and accepting of things I can’t change around me but hoping that things will at least stay as they are for as long as possible. There will still be realities that frustrate and make me feel like my hands are tied, but there is some peace I think is good to find in just dealing with things as they are when we can’t change them.

And I’m more determined to keep myself in good working order 😉 It may sound bland and boring, but I recognised how important it really is, among other reasons so I can enjoy the things I want to keep doing and trust that I will be able to deal with things that may come my way.

So yes, massively grateful for feeling like 25 a lot of the time! 😀 It didn’t really look like that in the first part of the year.

My year was thankfully still peppered with a number of live performances and for that I am even more grateful than ever. Every year I say this… 25 years ago I’d have never ever thought possible to live and work in London and enjoy the music I do, have visited the theatres I have, seen the cities I have in these past years. I know and I remind myself of how lucky I am and this year more than ever. So, on to some highlights. (I’ll skip the meh stuff, otherwise I’ll be sitting here as many hours as I spent seeing things. Not because they were bad per se, a few were, but I would still go see them if I could turn back time, you need to go see things to find the gems and everyone gives their best and it will provide a few hours of really nice music, even if it is not necessarily memorable):

The fun –

While a lot of things have been interesting, classical music in particular is not know a lot for the fun factor 😉 But I have seen 2 things which really brightened the heart and made me laugh:

  • The fabulous Elisir d’Amore /Donizetti at the Royal Opera House – all cast were brilliant but my thanks go to the amazing Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino &Bryn Terfel as Dulcamara and the fabulous ROH chorus, whom I adore (amazing singers and actors the lot!). The house was shaking with laughter and they should prescribe this instead of Prozac! 🙂
  • The new Guys& Dolls at Chichester Festival Theatre with the adorable and warm voiced Jamie Parker (JP I wish you all the roles you want in 2015! And keep singing 🙂 ) Loved this as much as I liked his Henry V at the Globe.

The good and enjoyable  –

I realise nothing will quite be able to equal the year of my first Wagner Ring at the ROH and Berlioz Troyens at same ROH, so I needed to remind myself often not to expect to much. However, there were quite a few duds this year so maybe slimmer opera pickings than usual. In no particular order of preference

  • Manon/Massenet (one of my top 5 favourite operas) at ROH in spring with the elegant, special and generous American tenor Matthew Polenzani (to find out a bit more about him here  He’s a thoroughly accomplished singer and I hope he’ll be back singing in London often. Incidentally, since the reopening of the La Fenice opera house in Venice in 2004 (after the big fire damage) they also have their own traditional new year’s concert and this year they had MP and Maria Agresta alongside conductor Daniel Harding. So I’m able to treat you to my first operatic highlight of the year 2015 straight away! (They sang Boheme too, but I’m bored with that and never liked it much anyways) Here is Matthew’s best bit, an exquisitely sung Verdi aria from the opera Luisa Miller (the lover has betrayed him and this is all about pain):
  • Idomeneo/Mozart at ROH in a ‘funny’ production, which was so absurd it unfortunately alienated a lot of the audience (a friend of mine said it gave crap a bad name 😉 ), but which was musically so good I couldn’t care less if they wore bin bags on stage! ( they didn’t, but there were plastic sharks and plastic fish :-p ). Mark Minkowski conducted a heavenly Mozart and Matthew Polenzani sung an impeccable and fiery Idomeneo. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair as actually musically it was sheer bliss, it only misses out on excellent due to production… A lot of people left, I went back 3 times because it sounded so gorgeously!
  •  Both visits this year to Glyndebourne in the summer provided not only the wonderful tea in the grounds and the countryside outing 😉 (on the cheap as we tend to do either standing or cheapest available ticks) but also 2 great operas: Onegin/Tchaikovsky with the brill Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko and a beauuutiful Traviata/Verdi (one of my all time favourites) conducted by Sir Mark Elder as one can only wish to hear it and sung very well by another American tenor, Michael Fabiano and the sparkling young Venera Gimadieva
  •  A Werther/Massenet (one of my top 3 – I love French opera as you are bound to find out at some point ) at the Arcola theatre in London sung by great young singers in a reduced setting but it worked wonders.  It’s called fringe, but those young souls put their all into it and blew us away, tears and all. Which just goes to prove you don’t need big names or even big theatres to have amazing experiences.
  •  A Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise song recital at the ROH– it was great, but I was quite sick and sadly this will never be my favourite cycle nor is Schubert my favourite song composer and I just like JK in so many other things more; the Manon Lescaut/Puccini at ROH with JK again and Pappano – another Puccini that doesn’t quite enchant me but Pappano makes it worth a listen and so does Jonas; just not something I sit down to listen to on my own and another good but not great production.
  •  Juan Diego Florez singing La fille du regiment/Donizetti at ROH – how can you not love him? Always lucky to hear him sing live, just as it is with Jonas Kaufmann 🙂
  •  Gerald Finley (Canadian bass/baritone) singing songs at Wigmore Hall with Julius Drake and singing the most wicked and charming count in Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro at ROH – one I never miss when he is in town 🙂 Definitely special… and he climbed Kilimanjaro this summer with his sons for charity!
  •  Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, intriguing production with some good acting though not quite as fulfilling as I’d hoped it would be, but it was an interesting enough experience that I appreciated having.
  •  Joyce diDonato and Antonio Pappano – season opening concert at Wigmore Hall, she sang beautifully, he’s just incredible and the piano is just one of his many talents and it was great to listen in such an intimate setting even if the program was not always wow.

The excellent and memorable –

Thin opera pickings this year, which was one of the surprises, but thoroughly compensated by ballet and THEATRE!

  • Tristan and Isolde – Wagner at ROH, always good, especially with Tony Pappano conducting and Nina Stemme singing and I had also missed Wagner a lot!;
  • French baritone Ludovic Tezier and Jonas Kaufmann singing the 2 main characters in Verdi’s Forza del destino, Munich Bayrische Staatsoper- didn’t much like production, wasn’t convinced by the conducting, don’t much care for the soprano but these two ripping at each other while singing are in-cre-di-ble! I can’t find the duets now, but this quick video gives you a shred of it, with the voices melding in Verdi heaven 🙂
  •  And very much to my surprise Ariadne auf Naxos /Strauss at ROH – again with Pappano conducting and the fascinating Karita Mattila singing. In fact this was one of the bigger musical surprises for me. I don’t like Strauss operas except Elektra and Salome, the neo-romantic ones don’t do much for me and my previous experience of Ariadne has not been good. I only went along to give it another try and I loved it! Due to conductor, brilliant and fun production by Christoph Loy, but above all due to the ladies singing (just in case you were wondering if I was fixated on male voices 😉 a bit , but I do like females ones to, just picky 😉 ). Karita Mattila, Ruxandra Donose and Jane Archibald were all 3 brilliant singers, actresses and just lovely elegant ladies. We had them in a ‘In Conversation’ event and I adored them all, the kind of women you want to become when you grow up, fantastic at what they do, fun, sparkling, powerful and feminine. Definitely one of the special highlights of the year. And I would have never expected that in a million years! Live and learn 🙂
  • The Verdi Requiem with Pappano conducting his 2nd orchestra, the Accademia Nazionale St Cecilia Rome on their visit to London. Everyone expected this to be forceful and full of power and instead it was soulful and emotional, it felt absolutely right, true and from the heart, one of the most beautiful renditions I’ve ever heard and the most touching.
  • BALLET, ballet, ballet! Everything I’ve seen these past 12 months from the Royal Ballet has been top notch and worth seeing and revisiting. In fact, there is only 1 other thing I saw this year as often as the RB McMillan Manon 😉 I saw every cast and I even got to see Roberto Bolle dance for the first time! The one who brought me to tears was however my lovely Ed Watson, who, together with my other shining star of the year, Steve McRae, danced in the new full length ballet Winter’s Tale (new music and ballet on Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy), which I can’t wait to see again. It’s so reassuring and just amazing to witness the creativity in both music and ballet at the RB (Winter’s Tale by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and music by Joby Talbot)! And there were many more highlights from the RB, like McRae’s peerless Oberon in McMillan’s A midsummer night’s dream and several modern pieces – Liam Scarlett’s ‘Sweet Violets’ and ‘Age of Anxiety’, Alastair Marriott’s ‘Connectome’ and Kim Brandstrup’s ‘Ceremony of Innocence’. I mentioned only 2 of my favourite dancers, but there are several more and I have to say ballet has felt very much alive and exciting this year at the RB, so much new work that I loved and many revivals of great quality. It’s totally exciting to see creativity thriving and I’ve loved all new stuff so far! Keep up the good work RB, you’re doing great! And I don’t regret one bit reshuffling my tight budget to reduce opera  a bit and enjoy more ballet, I’ve been richly rewarded!
  •  THEATRE!!!!! Now this is new and has been a significant shift over the past year. It’s an interest that has been growing slowly and has received a big boost this year. In previous years I could have mentioned a few things I’ve seen, a couple really good ones, but this year has been incredible and one good thing has led to another! While in opera a lot has not made this list and in ballet I’ve felt I wanted to mention most of what I have seen, in theatre bar 2 every single thing I’ve seen makes my list of highlights!
  • There was Richard II from the RSC which I saw in their run at the Barbican with the outstanding David Tennant as Richard. Great acting from him and the rest of the cast, great production and one more reason to love Shakespeare. It was the first time I had the chance to see David Tennant act live and I’m totally convinced, can’t wait for the next opportunity, whatever praise he got for the role it was fully deserved;
  • Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston, sadly not in the theatre but the cinema version, equally stunning, well acted and great production and the trio of plays at the beginning of the year was completed by
  • Henry V with Jude Law at the Noel Coward – one more where I went along doubtful and came out stunned and emotional and excited; he was as good as all the papers said and I am totally on board with the reviews which remarked on how lucky we were in London to enjoy these 3 actors in these 3 great productions! And the year had just begun!
  • The James plays at the National – I wish I’d been able to see all 3 instead of just the 2nd , sadly I miss the trilogy due to work travel but what I saw grabbed me totally ; again it ticked all the boxes, great acting, great production, great script in this case too.
  • Medea at the National – with Helen McCrory!!! A great example of how you can make modern audiences feel Euripides as if it was happening today! She was breath-taking and I felt like I had barely survived the play it was so intense. I also loved the modern/contemporary production.

Which made me regret even more the many failures in opera to direct them in interesting ways. Theatre this year was anything from traditional like the Richard II or the Henry to the modern and out there like Richard III or Medea and they were all successful in their own ways, there wasn’t a production I felt was useless among them. And yes if I had to pick a genre that really blew me away this year, it was theatre! I went in open minded but doubtful at the same time about its potential impact on me and came away feeling so much and so deeply! And also very very grateful of being able to see all these actors on stage live today.

Best productions –

Speaking of productions, this is just a mention for the direction itself rather than the content or musical value in some cases.

  • Kasper Holten’s new Don Giovanni at the ROH – brilliant, modern, exciting, physiologically eventful and insightful! Like few directors with him I felt he really understands women 🙂 Can’t wait to see a revival.
  • Alcola theatre Werther by Aylin Bozok – yes great opera can be done with little money and still be wonderful!
  • Wheeldon’s Winter’s tale at RB – a perfect example of narrative ballet done in modern ways, narrative ballet for the 21st century but building on all RB tradition, very clever and very beautiful!;
  • Liam Scarlett’s Anxiety – contemporary ballet telling a story for modern sensibilities, movie- like, boundary trespassing in many good ways;
  • Medea at the National by Carrie Cracknell – ancient theatre for our time, yes it can be done! Loved it! All theatre productions were great, effective in their individual ways, I liked Rii at Trafalgar for its boldness but it wasn’t quite effective, while Medea was new, fresh, contemporary and spot on.

And then there was the epic & life changing!

THE CRUCIBLE

To be continued… (i’ll update this same post as i want to keep it all together rather than creating another)