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)

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The Crucible on screen (with spoilers)

Just got back home from a double dose of the Crucible on screen. My friends doubt my sanity but that went long time ago in the summer 😉

This will not be a repeat of the impressions about the play itself, i may in time go back to that, but for now i just want to talk about how it translated to the big screen. Let me just say this for starters: it is incredibly well done!!

I was so anxious about how it would translate, if it was even possible to capture the impressions i had inside the theatre. And seeing very recently the Frankenstein from the NT in the cinema my anxiety only increased. I was so disappointed with the myriad technical problems and faults in that one that i was really afraid of seeing this and somehow damaging my impressions from seeing it live during the summer.

All my fears have been dispelled and all my expectations have been exceeded! Everyone who hasn’t had a chance to see it live and will see the video, you are in for a treat. It doesn’t feel as if there is a stage, you don’t even notice the round per se. And that is a great thing because in situ we didn’t either. You will feel immersed in the action completely, just as the audience was, especially from the first few rows. Robert Delamere and his team have taken the best possible views of Yael Farber’s production and captured them on screen.

I’m lucky i managed to see it twice as i was so fixated on dissecting the translation to the screen the first time around i only managed to relax properly the 2nd time. Didn’t help i was rushing from work and we had the most obnoxious of neighbours i’ve had in a while. Not only was the women very unpleasant, refusing to budge to let us to our seats but she brought ceramic cups with saucers and spoons into the cinema (with all the bloody related rattling), then she moved on to some wine glasses and finally she spent the entire acts 3 and 4 constantly checking her mobile phone, texting and reading texts and opening and closing the leather cover of said phone with its respective popper! Needless to say that wasn’t conducive to letting go emotionally and reliving it.

So i did notice some more ‘technical’ things, which i am only mentioning in the hope that those who decide to read them will then know and will be able to ignore them then, especially if they see it only 1x, instead of spending their time being surprise by some things or noticing them. I am not sure it works for everyone, but it worked perfectly for more, i ticked these off the 1x and then never noticed them again when i saw it for the 2nd time, which is a great sign.

I the first act i noticed some cut off tops f heads at the beginning, but they are very few and then disappear. There are a couple,very few, instances where you see the camera actually focusing, but sometimes the movement of people was very fast so it’s understandable. By these i don’t mean the sharper focus on one of the characters while either some in the background or some in front are our of focus, this is deliberate and it mimics very well how one would have focused the attention when being literally next to actors on stage. Same goes for a few interesting perspectives across people’s backs and shoulders. It will feel very different from how you would see things in a movie, but it is very true to how our view would have been from very close up. But of course, unlike next to the stage backs never really obstruct the view as they did sometimes in the theatre.

I only noticed one tiny tiny rub against a microphone, and i am not even sure that was an actual one, could have been another noise. This is amazing considering the actors moved as they always had, with no inhibitions whatsoever, brilliant sound! It’s wonderful to hear actors breath so acutely and there is no background noise which should be there. The downside of using body microphones is a higher volume of sounds than you would experience in a hall. But i’d like to point out that this is unavoidable. It’s a tough choice, you can only capture the way the voices feel in the space with microphones in the hall, but then you get the coughs, shuffles, etc. You really can’t have that with theatre, it’s important to preserve the clarity of the voices, so i absolutely think using body mics is right. But i think some people may find the whole thing a bit shouty and loud. In the theatre it was slightly more subtle and there were many times where Proctor was close to whispering, and not only him. The dynamics of voices are somewhat reduced and geared towards loud. But i understand there is nothing that can be done about that, some things like the way we perceive sound in space, simply cannot be replicated. But it is excellent sound, as said you don’t hear the voices being produced, it’s not too close to the mouth, just right and very clear. And i’d recommend to sit farther away from the screen and then the volume impact will likely be less 🙂 In the 2nd cinema the sound was all from the front and i was farther away and it was ok.

Still speaking of microphones, everyone has one and there is 1 which you will notice, and that is Proctor. I just want to point out again that Delamere has done incredibly well with a situation that is simply impossible and totally against them. Proctor’s open neck shirt and the lack of scarf beyond act 1 make hiding it incredibly difficult. Add to this Armitage’s long (and beautiful 😉 ) neck and very short hair and it just becomes impossible. Still they do incredibly well and you get to see mostly the profile or side of his face which hides the mic. But we are in the round and we will see his back often, his neck almost all the time and you will see it. I don’t think it could have been hidden any better or taped in any other way which wouldn’t have made the actor very uncomfortable and conscious of it. To be honest i forgot it was there when i saw it the 2nd time and it didn’t bother me in the end one bit.

On the upside, i have to praise them endlessly for the creative way they have dealt with the wash scene. Talk about creative hiding and not making the view of the scene awkward. We get the most beautiful perspective possible of it (and near identical as i was able to see it in the theatre just from the other side) and the microphone stays 95% hidden, bravo Mr Delamere!

And these are pretty much the only things i noticed from a sound/cut perspective that could raise questions. They are very very minor and proof of very creative shooting and cutting. To have so few things noticeable from just 3 performances captured is amazing.

Everything else works really well.

The lighting was really special and the managed to work the darkness in favour of the camera, it’s surprising how well they managed to capture it without it feeling overly dark. Faces are lit in most interesting ways and you get very eerie, very beautiful and very varied perspectives of faces and shades of light. The lower than normal light has the incredibly riveting impact of making eyes sparkle  and it only enhances the glances and emotions expressed. Every subtlety becomes identifiable and that is wonderful, we weren’t able to see all this detail there and it’s lovely to discover it on screen.

The costumes were dark and plain, but colours are clearly visible on screen and cloth textures add to it, patches, roughness’s, stitches become visible and tell their stories. Thanks to Farber’s direction and concept there is no make up to bite you through the screen, no wigs to look like dead animals on somebody’s head, no excessive sweating due to wigs. Actors looks absolutely natural, grime, wounds, grey hairs and all. If you think Proctor is too grimy, think again! He works the fields, he walks through dirt roads and he’ll be full of dirt and dust on every exposed bit of skin and in hard to reach places which he wouldn’t see or wash off necessarily unless he had a mirror, which is not this man’s priority. So there is no surprise the edges of his hairline or the back of his neck may be dusty. There are even thoughtful details like his grimy nails. And the make up in the final act is very effective without looking like too much.

The subtlety of the production translates very well on screen and makes everything feel very real.

The music is well embedded and you even get some of the sense of vibration across! If only somebody would go round the cinema before the start spraying some incense 😉 And the transitions between the acts are done in slow motion, on the background music, and i really liked this choice, paired with the recurring motive of floating ash they suggest passing of time and let you process the emotions of the previous scene without a clear break which helps keep the atmosphere.

I like the way the filming becomes increasingly intimate from act to act, i’m not sure if this is true in practice, but i felt like i got closer and closer or saw more faces the closer we go towards the end. May be just an impression… The movement in the first act is incredibly hard to capture i think but they’ve done a reasonably good job, it’s so fast you couldn’t show every twist from every angle. I think it is the only place where i would have maybe wish for a slightly larger perspective so we could see more of the floor, but that is compensated by incredible views of bed and Betty’s twist and movements. And by very relevant close ups to Proctors Abigail’s and everyone else’s faces. It’s all about choices, do you show the body language showing the full person or do you zoom in to their faces to show the contradictory expressions in their eyes? I think they got the balance right and it couldn’t have been easy, especially in this act.

I do think this is appreciated better by sitting away from the screen, the low light makes the images not be HD sharp in all cases (natural trade offs) so you don’t need to be stuck on the screen and notice the image get blurry or pixelate 😉 It’s better at a distance anyways to avoid feeling a bit claustrophobic and all too trapped. I was in row B for one and mid way for the other and much preferred mid way.

It is interesting how through performances slightly magnified on screen some aspects become less subtle while in other cases the subtlety only gets highlighted. Abigail becomes slightly more obvious whereas Proctor reveals a whole treasure of subtleties underneath that glare. It’s much more obvious how the glare, the deliberate stand off posture is more than anything else a defensive and protective mechanism and we can glimpse every so often through the cracks the myriad of emotions going on underneath. Same goes for Elizabeth.

I think everyone is captured both beautifully and naturally (i’ve rarely seen skin, eyes, hair, beards look so beautiful and translate naturally from stage to screen) and moreover, truthfully. I experienced a lot of deja vu feelings due to images that seemed to come directly out of my memory! Maybe just one mention, Proctor’s last act was in the majority of times that i have seen it more decomposed/liquid than this 🙂 But the snot+tears+blood version would have been too amplified on screen. They absolutely made the right choice of images, you get the full emotional impact as we got every night because you get it much closer up than we got most of the time, slightly closer up than 1st row perhaps and for that you need to choose a version that will draw attention to the emotion and not to the bodily fluids. The emotional truth was absolutely preserved.

I really think this is as close to the actual experience as possible, it’s a marvel! It truly captures both my memories and my experience and i am very grateful this was handled by very gentle and artistic hands. I tip my hat to you and say an enormous thank you Robert Delamere + team & Yael Farber.

And to the actors and particularly one Mr Armitage, i am so happy all your incredible performances from this summer are captured for the future and for many more people to see. I hope you enjoyed watching it, i hope you surprised yourselves watching what you are capable of, you should really be proud 🙂

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 🙂

Crucible 10th August (Richard Armitage @Old Vic)

Note – i think we ended up creating a full new post in comments, so please feel free to read along too 😉

September!!!! 10th, 2014 Crucible Old Vic

(It’s too late to change the title now and i’ll just leave it like that with the wrong date, testimony of just how much my brain was scrambled last night 😉

Johan Persson photo of Richard Armitage in the Crucible/ Old Vic

Johan Persson photo of Richard Armitage in the Crucible/ Old Vic

This will probably be as incoherent as it gets and as jumbled and illogical and on some level probably very embarrassingly emotional (apologies for any mistakes and typos, English is not my first language and under the circumstances I don’t have time tonight for decent editing, please bear with me). But I’ve decided to do this tonight nevertheless since I’ve got not option tomorrow morning but to put this under lock and key for the day and put the work brain on and try and use it. It is unfair! Living in London gives me these incredible experiences, but at the same time makes me wish I was a tourist on holiday and I could talk the night away after a show or walk the next day and still think about it and feel about it. The hardest thing is having to drag oneself to work the next day when everything about you screams it wants to hold on to last night for a tiny bit longer. So this is me trying to hold on…

I couldn’t have possibly imagined the 4th Crucible would feel like this. Don’t get me wrong, I fully expected it to grip me and take me on the journey as the other 3 times have, but it was a familiar path by now that was tough to walk, but which was so transforming each time you reached the end that I had no quibbles subjecting myself to it again.

I still hope I’ll retrace the other 3 as they are still vivid in my mind, untarnished by tonight’s experience, all the angst,  the frustration, feeling like a blubbering mess at the end, I’ll never forget that. There is so much that fascinated me about the play from the start, all the layers, the complex characters, the thousand stories told in the 1 play: from racism and slaves, to hatred, envy, religion, revolution and love of all kinds. There really is so much to talk about! But I did expect tonight to make a similar emotional journey as each of the other nights, not the same, but familiar.

It’s just that… it wasn’t. Serves me right I think for getting too comfortable about it to end up the night out of breath, frightened to the core and feeling like I’ve been stamped on by 100 horses. I was literally too shocked to cry.

I am not entirely sure I would choose tonight as the definitive Crucible of the ones I’ve seen; there was a level of tenderness, almost melancholy that had developed in the previous ones that wasn’t as present today. I particularly missed what to me is ‘John Proctor, the poet’ 🙂 More about that hopefully later. Today all throughout there was more volatility to the action, it felt as if the few moments of peace were cut much shorter and were always under threat by the overriding feeling of anxiety, fear and anger. It felt as if it was the shortest yet – I suspect it was the same in duration – but the increased intensity of it all made it feel faster.

I wonder how much influence in tonight’s atmosphere did the video recording have and how much is due to the end of the run approaching oh so fast? I guess both things made everyone take stock consciously and as a result some choices were made for the way they played their characters which all led to tonight’s outcome. I mean this very positively. By no means am I implying the actors haven’t thought about their performances before or made conscious choices, but I did have a feeling that it had been a more organic, almost subconscious evolution,  with subtle rather than dramatic changes.

Tonight we didn’t get just subtle changes, we got new takes on some lines, whole changes in atmosphere in some scenes.

For example, Danforth was not just forceful but rather more Machiavellian than before, his speeches had slightly less obvious force but far more evil twisted menace, which was very enjoyable to watch. I caught myself actually enjoying his spin on things at times and the almost velvety malice he developed, whereas in previous performances fear and frustration with him was the overriding tone.

Poor Mary Warren seemed to have found new levels of terror and you just wanted to hug her and whisk her away. But she became frighteningly vicious in her accusations of Proctor in the trial scene. The way she pointed and shouted at him took Proctor literally aback, it was horrible to watch and I think I never felt her turning on him quite as acute as I did today.

As frightened as she is, as frightening is Abigail. She’s always sacred me with her intensity, but today the first scene in Parris’ house between her and John was telling and her words showed us the inevitable end. John fights her off but doesn’t realise that she will never stop. She can’t and I’ve heard it today as clear as I hadn’t quite grasped it before. She says he’s opened her eyes to life and he cannot ask her to close them again. We’ve just heard how her parents were killed, we see how restricted girls have to live, Proctor has unknowingly opened the door to a new world for her, or unlocked the wildness in her and what has been freed cannot be locked up again. Too bad he didn’t realise it, but for me tonight her words spelled doom in big bold, unmistakable letters. Before I’ve been so riveted by their violent dance I don’t think I’ve paid quite as much attention to all words as I did today. But today I knew she’d stop at nothing. She was also much more violent in her threats to the other girls. She’s strong enough to corner John into admitting he may still think fondly of her, even though he then rejects her. I felt that unlike other times she really had the upper hand in that particular scene.

Giles and Francis were the only ones who hadn’t been infected by the violence in the air, their natural, warm way was almost like a grounding point in normality, making the abnormality of everything else even more shocking.

Parris decayed from act3 accuser to act4 frightened lost man all the more convincingly, but what I found particularly hard to deal with tonight was the level of violence displayed against Tituba in act 1.   The light of God certainly didn’t shine in this man (at which point I have to say that it takes a wonderful actor to accept and be able to display the level of cowardice that characterises Parris. And today once more I realised that his weakness in the last act makes me sympathise with him and for that I have to thank Michael Thomas.)

Ah, and this is a point I’d like to make: I don’t hate any of the characters! None. This is partly due to the play being absolutely brilliant in giving the characters substance, but equally as much due to Yael Farber and each actor who makes the roles become living breathing, believable, flawed humans. For me it’s no mean feat that this never descends into caricature evilness or greatness. There is no absolute hero (no, there isn’t ;-)) but there is also no absolute evil. Yes there are motivations and flaws and a whole array of character traits, but we get to see everyone vulnerable at some point and what could easily be hate becomes pity and sympathy. Of course a major factor in balancing the overall view is Proctor’s ascent to heroism 🙂 His transformation and also characters like Giles or Rebeca Nurse, Elizabeth and Hale and their particular paths give us I think sufficient redemption and light to allow us to forgive or at least look with sympathy upon the ones who are unable to evolve or better themselves.

Hale is one of my favourite characters, the one I personally empathise most with, especially at the end. I’m in awe of Proctor’s will and determination, but the argument that resonates with me and is closest to my heart is the one Hale makes, about life being more important than anything (my own religious doubts coming into play which push me to be more sympathetic towards choosing life rather than redemption in death). And just like the level of cowardice in Parris must be very hard to play, so is Hale’s gradual realisation and damnation. He is a good man I think Goody Proctor would say and when a good man like him, a minister, realises he is partially responsible for the deaths of innocents and not only that, but in order to try and save a few, he has to make them go against their strongest religious beliefs, well then he is truly damned. Adrian Schiller’s descent from the calm, collected minister to the tortured soul at the end has fascinated me each night and it is subtly gradual. Tonight I thought at first it was somewhat delayed until it plummeted startlingly. It starts in the trial scene and his attempts to save Proctor, but the real knife-in-gut moment was in the last act when he explains that, were he unable to save Proctor, he would be a murderer. The despair in his voice, the amount of guilt those lines carried was enormous.  And in that one word he managed tonight to make you see all the bodies of those hanged one by one. Horrifying and heart-breaking.

I have to say that at the final applause, when he managed to collect himself from the floor where he had fallen as they were dragging Proctor out to be hanged, his face was so filled with grief and despair still – to the depths of his eyes – that I had to look away, it felt indecent to applaud, though I did, but it just felt as if that linger of grief was almost too private.

And I felt the same with Elizabeth and John (Anna Madeley and Richard Armitage), it was almost as if I’d have been watching them come back from within their characters.

And there it was again tonight with Elizabeth too, the feelings, the intensity  vibrating all around her. Before, I’ve always felt she managed to lay calm over rejection, that it was her belief, her religion that held her steadfast. Well today there was much more than that, there was clear anger, suspicion and mistrust. Let’s put it that way, even though she does all her domestic duties, prepares the stew, prepares his water, it’s clear she’s got a bee in her bonnet! And she started with hitting that bread dough extra hard against the table. Yes we can see the fatigue, the weariness, but it’s clear when she says it that she is just waiting to ask him where he’s been. I hadn’t noticed that before, but for example when he sits down to eat he extends his hand next to the plate trying to grab for hers, but she ignores him deliberately and pulls her hand away. Her rejection of his kiss went today as far as turning her head away, not just standing still and not reacting.

Ok, I’ll admit I liked this scene slightly softer, more melancholic as I’d experienced it gradually before, tonight the overriding feeling between them was frustration and anger. It fitted the overall feel of increasing threat, uneasiness which was relentless. But I did miss a bit of the softer ebb and flow of other nights. In secret, I do wish some of that would come back for the last night 😉

But you’d be wrong if you think I blame her or would like her to soften up. I have to go back to previous evenings to explain myself. The first time I met John Proctor I didn’t like him at first, that scene with Abigail doesn’t speak to his advantage, let’s face it, he’s been cheating on his wife. And in the next scene he’s shouting at Elizabeth for judging him while he’s been again not entirely truthful, though no longer cheating. It took me all to the end of act 2 to see him heartbroken when they take her, to start forgiving him myself. And my opinion of him improved gradually from then on. Of course once you have experienced the end you see Proctor in a very different light. And that transformation stays with you next time you see the play and you’ll never see Proctor the same again.

Except tonight I did! I honestly didn’t think Richard Armitage could erase Proctor from my mind and recreate him from scratch as if I hadn’t seen him before. But because he was weaker with Abigail and more forceful with Elizabeth I felt resentment, dislike! And I couldn’t stop myself from feeling these things or rationalise them away. I wanted to slap him when he sat in shame in his chair while Abigail was claiming him and I wanted to slap him again when he was shouting at Elizabeth she wasn’t God to judge him! But he managed to be so angry at Elizabeth that you realised he was still being angry at himself. The confrontation between the 2 was so intense, so angry, so frustrating that you got a very sad sense of a completely broken relationship. Today I had my doubts if mending it would even be possible. And then with one tiny gesture Armitage convinced me that possibility was still out there: in the midst of their fight as Hale turns up they turn next to each other from facing each other and he almost instinctively half grabs her hand. And in that once instance even with resentment still bubbling, they become a united front again. Not only that, but in that one tiny gesture John not only takes the protective role again, but also communicates that ultimately his anger is with himself, his care for her is stronger, deeper than the recent fight. So he put me on the path to forgiveness all over again! Even when she completes the last commandment with a harsh “adultery“, his tone is auto -ironical but not harsh towards her. He accepts her reprimand with some frustration but the tone still says: we are a unit. Amazing!

I was searching for a word to define how he made John Proctor different today, where the threat came from and I found it: volatility! There has always been a sense of Proctor being a man of deep passions and convictions, but while other evenings he’s controlling these, tonight he was volatile and the swings where more intense, dramatic and unpredictable. From his broken voice one minute after they have taken Elizabeth to turning towards Mary with a look in his eyes that was almost madness; no wonder she scurries away in fright, he looked and acted completely unhinged. And here is where you get a sense of Proctor as a good man. He’s not good because he’s religious or always doing the right thing, he’s good because his sense of right and wrong always overrides any impulses (well, almost always ;-)) He has the choice, and he chooses the right thing.

The irony of the conflict with Mary and the trial scene is not lost on the audience; however I think Miller makes it clear that although Proctor has a temper and that temper is under strain as they have just taken his wife away, force will not be his ultimate solution, not against poor Mary. Though we see him raging in that instance, by the next act it’s clear he’s persuaded her to do the right thing, and she has come to that decision herself not due to threats but convictions. Richard Armitage has perfected that dance on the edge masterfully, so much so that you trust him enough to actually go along and let him frighten you, let yourself wonder how far he will go for Elizabeth. Again and again you see him having a go at Mary but stopping when he sees her really vulnerable. There is righteousness and anger in him, but there is no mean streak.

And so the evening was dominated by fear, fear of Danforth and the authority, the hanging and the jail and fear of one man’s passion. And guess what keeps you more on edge?? Of course it is Proctor! While the authority is absurd, illogical and abusive, we know exactly what to expect from it. But we never know what Proctor will do next. You can watch his eyes and his facial expressions and still not know what will come next. And I think it takes him and drags him along as much as it does us. When he violently circles the round denouncing the court, appalled at the insanity, it is a tipping point. Although we know what is what, it feels as if the insane one is him, his world has tipped upside down and he doesn’t see a way to put it right. Richard circles the round in massive steps getting up close to each judge in the frightening “ we will buuuurrrn..” lines and suddenly had to pull himself back forcefully almost as the next step took him right up the first bench of innocent audience members. It felt like they only very narrowly escaped the wave of his wrath.

And you think it can’t possibly get even more intense than this, but then it does.

Elizabeth and John laughing and crying together, forehead to forehead has to be one of my favourite images from all shows. He’s sitting broken and tortured in the chair she pulled for him, she is kneeling at his feet and we get a glimpse of what their relationship was like in the good days. Anna and Richard manage to make that scene so natural it’s almost domestic. And what is so spellbinding is how immediate their contact is and how strong the bond, in spite misery, jail etc. ( this is the rattiest shirt yet I’ve seen for the last act, Proctor looked like he’s been tortured more than last time and everything on him looked just horrible, double the wounds and tears than the other times).

What also becomes immediately obvious is that what has broken Proctor is his guilt, his own sense of shame. And it is heartbreaking how Elizabeth’s proof of love comes in a desperate attempt to lift that blame away.

The moment that made me wince physically and knotted my stomach is in his struggle to sign the confession, when he faces Rebecca Nurse the way his back literally broke at her gentle “oh, John!”. It’s hard to describe how a man so tall, so physically able, can collapse in on himself and give you the physical impression that he is trying to dig himself into the ground.

And then, just went you feel the need to reach out and comfort, something inside him grows. It’s like a sort of emotional supernova, he collapses inwardly only to explode with greater force and engulf everything around him. As he started to straighten and his voice started to clear and gain force you could almost feel the threat coming in frightening slow motion. A simple movement like straightening ones spine had the entire hall spellbound in absolute silence. And there he was, John Proctor, twice as tall, stronger than ever, suddenly unleashed, hand firmly lifted with the confession.  Richard Armitage said in the conversation that the play made him want to burn, well, I could almost swear I’ve seen the flesh burn off his body tonight in that scene. I think every single person in the Vic not only heard his name but physically felt it.

Then, in absolute silence he slowly lifts the other hand and rips the paper in two. You could literally feel the physical force emanating from him. It’s a very beautiful moment!

And then he turns and in utter shock sees Elizabeth and realises what this means for her and for them. And for me this is the actual death scene. It’s goodbye but he makes it at the same time into a celebration of life. I honestly felt that he was almost transferring all his life force to Elizabeth in that one kiss. He lifted her very very high up, caressed her hair after loosening it and literally gave her the kiss of life in a way. Whatever they dragged away after that was just the empty shell of John Proctor. I felt as if his spirit had stayed with Elizabeth.

People jumped up in standing ovations and I could hardly stand as I felt my knees knocking together and my hands shaking. I have no exact idea of how I got to my bus, except I missed my various bus stops and had to get off and start again and it took me a really long while to start breathing close to normal. I still feel a bit frightened of what I watched. I know this was the 4th show in just 2 days and I have no explanation of how such performances are even possible. Wherever that energy came from that made everyone turn themselves inside out and literally explode within the round I am grateful for it and frightened of it a bit too. I hope that we managed to give back to all these wonderful actors some of the enormous energy we received from them (otherwise as I mentioned I’d feel like an emotional vampire!).  I am very very grateful for their dedication and talent, today was extraordinary!

And Richard Armitage, you should come with a warning label on stage: emotionally contagious! May be dangerous to your health! 🙂

One more to go…. And now I really don’t know what to expect!

To be continued…

PS for those curious about these details, I stumbled through nearest exit right next to stage door and I must have been of the first to exit and there was already a cue to the corner. Must be people who didn’t see the show, if they left early… well they missed all that. I couldn’t have possibly had a normal human conversation with anyone or anything at that point. Nor did I frankly think anyone on stage could give me anything more than they already had. I wouldn’t have accepted even a miniounce of energy from any of them, just wouldn’t have felt right. Saying thanks may have felt right, but are there any thanks that can do justice to this performance? Again I don’t believe so, anything to be said had been said inside the doors this night. I don’t mean to say it’s not nice and so on, just that I couldn’t have possibly stayed there or said anything. I stayed once and it was a very pleasant experience which hopefully I’ll get to tell you about over the next few days.