Readers will know why

It only took John Proctor and it only takes a few seconds of the trailer to bring all memories back 🙂 Feel free to browse back in the block for all my thoughts back then, still my thoughts now.

And i enjoy listening to him talk about work as much as i like seeing him at work.

And there was this ‘Guy’ 🙂 Truly one of a kind, unforgettable!

And i miss this one a lot as well, used to walk past a mega poster of my favourite spy every day until a couple years ago when we changed buildings.

and there are many more, of course.

Hopefully many more to come as well, on stage, on screen, in our ears 😉 I do crave a character who would accompany us a couple of years at least or who would touch as as deeply as Proctor did. Here’s to complex, relatable characters and may i ask for a writer who can sprinkle a sense of irony and some humour over the character, i really miss that.


Bedtime stories by Richard Armitage

Seems hardly believable that this was just the first part of the evening. With no time to think, process or even really acknowledge we’d spent one hour listening to RA peel the layers of his career we hopped into a taxi across town and found ourselves an an equally welcoming venue, this time a modern art gallery and events center.

It felt almost surreal, we were surrounded by people who had just arrived and were eagerly waiting to see both Richard and the movie, by extremely friendly staff who were offering a trio of lovely little canapes and glasses of fizz. I felt welcome and very comfortable, it was celebratory but in a joyful, friendly way. Canapes of roasted glazed pork belly, salmon pate on a biscuit base and caramelised red onion mini tarts with a dollop of goats cheese mouse on top. Treats, but you know, normal treats 🙂 Not the kind where you wonder what that is and how on earth to pick it up and eat it. I really wished I was feeling better and could have some more. I felt bad to refuse the friendly staff after one little onion tartlet and a half glass of fizz. I hope I didn’t come off as snubbing the offerings which were lovely, but I was just too afraid to upset the delicate balance of my innards, especially since the nap had lost its effect and tiredness was creeping back on me. Afraid I wasn’t the most active conversation participant because in all honesty through the lack of sleep and caffeine (selfimposed by necessity) I concentrated my energies on just taking it all in.
I loved how people had dressed in their ‘good clothes’ for event, like you would for a special theatre outing or your know, celebrate Easter 🙂 No fancy silly evening gowns, just your best Sunday ones 🙂 I suddenly felt guilty about my woolly jumper and skimpy packing. By no means because of the people around me, but because yes, this was an event to celebrate and it deserved way more of my effort! I wished so baldy I’d blinged it up a bit to signal I was chuffed to be there, even happier the film got another chance (and what a chance this was, now knowing that the film won the people’s choice award and Richard won best actor!). Not for the first time that evening I wish I’d prepared…
I was tempted to roam but didn’t want to wonder too far since we didn’t know where exactly in the building the screening would take place and also didn’t know when/where Richard would arrive. The exhibition was very alluring though, a bright open space with plenty of varied exhibits by local artists. Wish there had been more time between the events for exploring, but understandably everyone huddled near the staircase which came from the front and the drinks tables had also been set out next to them. Suddenly there was a buzz and from everyone turning towards the center or the room where the staircase came up it was clear who had arrived 😉 In fact as both him and Fraser hit the top of the staircase they got stuck with people greeting them. We were looking on from the other side of the railing, with some lucky ones having enough presence of spirit to take photos 🙂 All that crossed my mind looking at his back and where his feet stood, 10 cm on the ledge of the staircase with his back to it was how terribly unsafe it was. Finally, to my relief he stepped away towards the tables and everyone moved towards the center of the room.
In the general hubbub I suddenly decided I wasn’t even going to try and get closer as it was nearly 8 and the screening would have to start soon. So instead I went looking for a staff member and asked where we would have to go and they explained that it would be all the way down to an attached part of the building. And I was suddenly very keen to secure a good place for the screening 😉

Just then people were invited to head over and half of our little group headed to the previously indicated lift and there we were among the first getting to the screening room. In fact I walked passed the merchandise table without even looking, which is why it was only Linda later who picked up on the Edge magazine! She mentioned something about interviews in them and kindly got another one and some people managed a few more but since it was cash only and the screening was already about to start no many people I think realised it was actually really interesting materials. I dropped the additional copy Linda bought just behind me on the table and never even opened it, leaving it for later (with relatively funny consequences).


one of my own meager pickings

The room was spacious but the set up was a bit unexpected; chairs in clear plastic had been arranged around neatly set big round tables covered with white table cloths. Clear this was probably often used for formal sit down dinner or the like. In fact Fraser and Richard funnily commented on it before the introduction mentioning that it made it look a bit like a BINGO hall 😉 We did have a good spot in a sort of 2nd row of tables , still pretty close to the screen and not many heads in front to obstruct the view.
The projection screen bas pretty wide and after a brief introduction and a promise of a QA after by Candida Brady, Fraser and Richard inviting us to watch the movie we were off into Urban’s world. The 3 sat at the side at some high chairs for a few minutes and then discretely left. The room was absolutely silent and everyone was engrossed, sound and picture were good and even though I had seen it before my attention was immediately captured.

I was trying to remember or rather detect if anything had been changed in the editing but by the end of it I am convinced any changes were really really minor, in fact nothing stuck out as missing. The titles have been changed but I like the new, more discreet and unassuming version. We’re introduced to the protagonist of the story right away and it feels very unassuming, as if we’ve just stumbled or rather walked in into their daily lives.

I will try not to spoil the story or the film for anyone so will just record some general impressions I had about the feel of it. Tiredness help in switching off any secondary thoughts I might have had about cuts and music and such, I just let the story come to me if you will.

I loved it, it clung to me immediately, even more than the first time and all throughout I kept thinking how much I would want to watch it again, revisit this and that scene, hear certain dialogue again. It’s a great film, a captivating even if very very sad story. You connect to the characters immediately and they hold your interest throughout. Candida Brady’s experience in documentaries really works in making the film feel natural, unforced. It sometimes may feel a bit episodic but that’s the whole point, we see moments in their lives which are sometimes turning points, sometimes stumble blocks. Like people’s lives it’s not a straight narrative like an action movie, it meanders as the characters find their life moving not always forwards or even backwards, but sideways or sometimes just in circles. It’s not a faced-paced bam-bam-bam thing, it evolves and emerges and becomes it with a well managed arc.

It’s neither romantic nor melodramatic and much of the tone is helped by Chop himself being often an observer rather than an active participant. He often lets the children be the story tellers and many times just listens. And when he does talk it is sometimes almost unexpected as it turns out he is a great storyteller himself. He becomes both the children’s and our center of attention, just as Urban is most often himself as well. Nobody feels secondary in the film.

I did wonder if language could be a barrier for the movie, as a lot of slang is used. But I don’t think so, it’s really often not about the exact words people say, especially the kids, it’s about the way they communicate, what they do, how they live. The film has no trouble communicating beyond the words.

The acting is excellent throughout, from dog to kids and adults 🙂 I think people will find a lot to love about Chop, from his quiet observing nature, to his story telling , humour and even his constant smoking. We get to see, hear and enjoy a lot of what we love about Armitage. But I am sure you’ll fall in love with Urban, his mum, the dog and even the van too. People, places, clothes, furniture, everything speaks of poverty but there is a lot to be smiled at and laughed with, a lot of beauty in it. I think the copious amounts of colour, among others in Chop’s and Urban’s clothing help set this stylistic tone. You’ll never think of this film as grey.

But obviously the most powerful thing about the movie is this relationship between Chop and Urban, the quiet, mutual understanding, the strong bond they form where adult/child roles are often reversed, only to emphasize how Urban has become wise beyond his years. Both man and child also have big moments of utter vulnerability.

The script is great, but so is the book and it’s good to see it translate so well to real dialogue. The tone for each character is clearly and consistently set, in fact it very much feels like real life. I feel even stronger than before that this is a story which must be told, must be seen. I feel about this like I did when I watched ‘Broken’ a few months back. Like these are the stories and realities we need to talk and see more of. I don’t know if that will be possible, but this is a film that for me 100% belongs on the BBC. My feeling throughout was : ‘this is the stuff we need to show more of’ , this is where the BBC needs to step in , showing the films which may not be making money or were made on big budgets, but which remind us about the people and lives in this country. It’s not and should not all be about the Crown and superhero movies, although we all need escapisms these days. But those who have the public’s ears and are financed by the public’s money and whose mission is not only to entertain but also to educate and inform have an obligation to speak up and share the stories that money won’t otherwise carry. When if not now is the time to tell these childrens’ stories? Unlike the brief news reports about increasing homelessness or children having to rely on school lunches for food, this little film is impossible to look away from.

It finished leaving a thick, emotion-filled silence, which I think is a very good sign of it’s impact on any viewing public. It gives you a lot of thinking material and I just felt a bit sad, a lot angry, some frustration, some hope , some pride in what everyone has achieved in the film. On a secondary level I also felt vindicated and reaffirmed in why I like to watch Richard Armitage on screen and stage. There is great reward for both mind and heart in watching material that you can connect with deeply told by somebody with his level of sensitivity and detail in acting. Honestly, every time I use the word acting with respect to this film it actually feels wrong. It’s just so real. And I will openly admit that this is the kind of combination of complex role, thoughtful material and screen time I have been starving for.

I was just an observer at the QA which followed since I just couldn’t really get my head out of the film enough to start digging behind the curtain. I’d also had a previous opportunity so it felt wrong to take any more time from others who knew maybe less about it and the people involved. And the questions and answers were very interesting anyway.

Fraser proved to be a very thoughtful and mature young man. In fact the way he interacted with all of us that evening, formally at the QA and personally mingling and talking to us one on one really impressed me. His parents have much to be proud of and he is very conscious of their support. I am sure the decision to play the role 4 years ago, when he was just 12 was not an easy one, probably a very brave one by his parents. And it was a lot to take in, as he himself admitted. Asked, he explained how he read the first 15 pages of the book and stopped, struck by the story and how much he learned during the filming about the lives of kids and adults in the area they were depicting. And then he finished reading it after the filming was done and was struck again.

Both Candida Brady and Richard let him answer most of the questions and he proved a most convincing and articulated advocate for the movie. He was fervent in the importance of doing more to support families and children in poverty and how any one person can make a difference and how we needed to talk much more about the subject.

A lady from the Leeds/Bradford area also wanted to share the fact that she really felt the film was truthful to circumstances and that she appreciated it being seen as years back she had read the book and it inspired her to work in social care.

Candida expressed her thanks for the support the movie has received so far and talked about how close the local community, the children whose lives are depicted and Bernie were involved with it. And also about how important it was to show the lives of people as truthfully as possible, not just as individual stories of poverty and loss but also in the community aspect of living in the area. She also stressed the fact that the stories of these kids often start before they are born, as some are born in prison to women who have been incarcerated for minor crimes, often driven by their partners to commit them.

All 3 spoke about the fact that money is not always the solution of all these problems and although it helps with building structures a lot more in terms of human input and care is needed to help where families are not there or can’t provide the care these children need. Richard also pointed out that they are telling a story but politicians need to find solutions and should definitely visit the areas affected as well.

At which point, since it was already past 10pm and everyone was deeply touched by the subject at hand and also by all their passionate support of the film a moment of silence fell upon us where Richard softly and very tentatively said: ‘is it bedtime?’ There was just that melancholy feeling about the room, but I am glad somebody brought up the courage to not end it just there and lifted the spirits a bit asking about fun moments during filming. Smiles and giggles ensued when Fraser spoke about being in the pub after work all night and Richard raising eyebrows at him.. ‘coke on tap!’ Fraser cheekily replied and Richard remembered with smiles that when they filmed with the dog it was always fun as with him just being a rescue dog and no trained actor one he was very unpredictable. And they both stressed there had been many laughs as there are indeed on screen. Both were fond of a picnic scene under the stars 🙂

Richard deferred to Fraser most of the times, I think both because he was indeed a bit tired, but also because the young man really did say all the right things 🙂 He did have 1-2 interesting thoughts to add. On the subject of what the story is about and what attracted him to it he mentioned how upon reading the book Bernie seemed to have put himself very much in the background but it was obvious he played an important role in the kids lives and made a difference and he really wanted to take the role on to bring that forward. And also in terms of making the difference he stressed the importance of stories being told, not just the ones Bernie tells the kids but also the way he gets the kids to write poetry and tell their own stories to each other. He said this was very important as it gave them purpose, a sense that they and their story mattered too because a big part of their lives previously had been to be ignored by everyone and forgotten. I thought that was a really interesting and thoughtful observation.

He’d also said earlier in the conversation with Caroline Goodall that he enjoyed being Chop and living that relaxed life, sitting there between takes rolling his 20 ciggies a day and not feeling the need to wash (the latter to our horrified laughs!). And also that he enjoyed being part of portraying the relationship between Chop and Urban on screen, that this bond man-child had been a big part of what interested him about the role as well.

I got a real sense that this film really matters to him. Of course the subject plays a big part and the role in getting a message out has been central to what he said about it. And of course he’d like his work to see the light of day but knows this does not always automatically happen. But I think also looking back on it, remembering it, but also seeing some of it again he’s fallen back in love with the movie itself. There was fresh, almost like newly discovered conviction that this is a good film (he said as much) and I think he also likes what he was able to do with Chop and would like it to be seen. I agree, he should be proud of Chop 🙂

Since there were no more questions, Richard took charge of expressing their thanks, including to everyone who had come to attend the screening. But to my surprise even though it was past 10,30pm at this point and everyone was tired they didn’t leave but stayed and mingled with everyone present who wanted to have a chat, get something signed etc.

I checked on our transport and confirmed that it had long gone since I’d not wanted to interrupt anything by running out to make phone calls and couldn’t find a number to text and called to arrange some new one apologising pretending to be tied up in a an event. I felt really bad for standing up a taxi driver who needed the fare and prioritising richarding instead! Luckily , as it turned out later it was the same one who stuck around the area who took us back to our hotel and we bestowed a generous tip for the annoyance caused earlier, phew! Conscience appeased!

Transport distraction dealt with I had no other reason to duck the obvious: Richard was there, talking to people.. what was I going to do? Apart from not having brought a scarp of paper or anything to sign on.. ah, I had the magazine. I looked at the small cue of people patiently waiting their turn..and walked in the other direction! In as.. I don’t know what to say to him, I’m so tired my brain feels foggy, have nothing to ask for… we’ll see how this pans out if there are still people waiting, let’s let everyone else be attended.

So I had a look around to see if Candida Brady has stayed back as well and Fraser and decided I wanted to say how glad I was this got another chance and hopefully more and congratulate him too. And as I found them among a small crowd an idea started to bloom. I flicked through the magazine not seeing much but realised it included the schedule for the festival and with it a small note in a corner on the premiere, with a photo of Anna Friel next to it. I figured it could be nice to have this signed as a small memorabilia for somebody who hadn’t been able to attend it, thankfully I did find a pen in my paperless bag! So thank I did and expressed my pleasure at the screening and how much I enjoyed seeing it again and was keen on seeing it many more times and asked Candida Brady to kindly sign next to the festival schedule and then had a quick chat with the utterly unflappable and lovely smiling Fraser! I said how brave I thought he was in taking the role and that he did a great job of supporting the film and explained I would really love to have his signature as well if he didn’t mind to which he calligraphed rather charmingly an inexperienced initial 🙂 I hope he’ll do well for himself as an actor and I’ll always have the pleasant memories of his 16 young self holding his own with a crowd 🙂

Well now, the signature thing was hardly going to be really nice unless I had all 3 there, so I looked at the cue again and it had gone considerably smaller. I slowly walked over and thought that fate will decide, it’s late and if he goes he goes, if there is nobody else waiting I’ll point the magazine his way. He seemed to be in no rush whatsoever, attentively talking to everyone, signing or photographing as requested, using his long arm to produce lovely selfies with the fans 🙂 Somebody had only the printed event ticket to sign and he saw the price and went: oh..£! He sounded impressed and slightly shocked LOL Richard, there was a small reception, it’s a bit more than a cinema ticket, mate 😉 It’s and you’re worth it though, don’t you worry ;-))))

When my turn came, I pointed to the magazine corner and explained about wanting to possibly auction it off to send the proceeds to actionforchilden (one women executive decision made!) and that because of that I’d kindly asked Candida and Fraser to sign pointing at signatures and if he wouldn’t mind please to do the same. He said that was a beautiful picture of her (Anna Friel) and I said that indeed it was. I have a memory of saying something about Fraser I think and him saying something about Fraser having shown him wrestling videos all the day because he wanted to train for it (Fraser not Rich!) but for the life of me I have no clue if he said it in context or to other people or what, I just remember him laughing and saying that. And he of course cramped his signature very nicely where I had pointed him to LOL… Not saying a single word about the magazine containing: 2 page interview with him, 2 page interview with Candida and 2 page feature on the film… which all would have made more decent places for their signatures than where I had decided to cramp them in my ignorance!!!!

I so wanted to slap myself with the Edge once I discovered it hours later but didn’t because I couldn’t ruin the magazine which I hope will make somebody very happy one day soon and in the process help the people who help the kids 🙂 I regret being so tongue-tied and not actually showing any of the enthusiasm I really felt. I was so afraid of going on too much, embarrassing myself, holding him up at that late hour any longer, etc that I ended up giving back nearly nothing of all the joy I received over the years watching him act or listening to him talk about his work. In the grand scheme of things of course it doesn’t matter and it didn’t really diminish the wonderful experience in any way 🙂 In fact it was so wonderful it kept me awake alongside the rest of the ladies until 3am that night just to keep chatting about it and for further 2 nights once I got home.

There are many thanks I would like to say or words of appreciation but composure sort of got in the way; so unfortunately it’s you the readers who end up on the receiving end of some of it!


Esther’s… but it’s lovely so i had to end with it 🙂

Can’t wait for more of you too met Chop and Urban so we can talk some more.

Soul food, recipe by Richard Armitage

I know i have been absent and that i haven’t really shared much with you in a really long time. There have been the odd instances where something happened and I felt I wanted to mark it, but between NY and now expressing any thoughts has gone under the whirlwind of daily life. In fact NY still feels current to me, or recent. In between I feel like I have been living (and continue to do so) in a pressure pot. Maybe I will get a chance to talk more about it as it’s still pretty much how life is, but this post is not about that 🙂

It is thankfully about going back to the ‘happy place’ I was in during the NY trip and around it and coming back to myself as well and to a version of myself I enjoy. To a place where work merges with hobby, where for 1 day I am allowed to and I can shut everything else out and just live in the now and enjoy the hell out of it. It is invigorating and I only wish I had been better prepared, with batteries fully loaded to throw more force at it and get even more back. But maybe part of the best fun is not being able to prepare for it and just letting it happen 🙂
Part of it has also been finding joy and connection in being with people. Not because you have to, not because you have to get something done, not because it’s your job, no because you have made a commitment, with no expectation other than spending time together and enjoying yourselves, no plan, no targets, no pressures. I’d honestly nearly forgotten what that feels like. So thanks for giving me back a part of myself goes to the lovely ladies I shared the brief stay in Newcastle with (and whose great photos and lovely blog reports you can also read below):
Esther (@BookEstherBlog); Ella (@Ella_4619)  , Linda (@aka_linda60) and Judit
It’s been great fun, to be repeated! And I so hope that the next event, whatever and wherever it may be will bring all the groups and lovely friends from nearer and afar together!

Sadly there are not many photos from me, a total of 2-3, but please do read the above blogs and give tumbler and twitter a go over on the tag #richardarmitage and also check Perry and Serv, who have diligently and with great patience linked to many fan reports and photos. I’ve hoarded myself quite a few of those generously shared all round but I really don’t want to post them without permission or not quoting the owners, so I’ll just mostly point you in the right direction for those essential photo-fixes 😉

From me there will be mostly words, words, words as in his presence my womanly multitasking talent fails me and my eyes, ears and brains are just focused on taking it all in and storing it for a long looong time.

I can’t really say I planned the trip, because little conscious effort went into it, it was a series of –raise head above water, kneejerk click here and there, back to RL – kind of moments. When the possibility of a screening was announced I thought I could just book some hotels and see later and I did book various covering the whole weekend because the date wasn’t know or anything else. Then I bought tickets, I did stop and think a second if I was willing to loose the money if I didn’t go but I decided I could and went ahead. And then many weeks passed, I watched the return train fares go up and up and up… booked 2 alternative tickets in London for stuff that very same weekend, then cancelled them because RL took priority and I wasn’t feeling like going out and wanted to have time available for other commitments. And then I finally bit the train bullet but stashed it on the credit card as if not used there are some return options.
Even the week before I wasn’t entirely sure and only when it finally appeared as if no other commitments would emerge that weekend I knew I would travel. My expectation from the program was pretty much like this: a QA at which my understanding was he would be the interviewer as they would want to feature Caroline Goodall , since she is the patron and he was around and they knew each other – but it looked interesting in any case, 2 actors taking about acting, count me in – and straight away an introduction to Urban after which he would return to Easter holidays. Done and dusted.

I didn’t give anything more thought as I have more trips and days of work in between coming up and my only concern was to pack as lightly as possible for the day (in early Sat due to train fares, out Easter Sun lunchtime). I didn’t pack even a scap of paper, neither my still rolled up and unframed Crucible posters, nor any paper tickets, not even poor POP-Thorin. I was convinced no direct interaction of any kind was planned or would have time to happen given tight schedule.

I hate early trains and I usually stress about being late and missing it and having to pay the fare again so I caught about 1h of sleep and my lent diet which had up until now worked ok failed me and a spinach salad with roasted carrot did me in. So I was tired, feeling rough and grumpy and got really cold on the train because of being plastered against the cold wall in a window seat on a full train. And the train was going to Edinburgh…. I didn’t really want to get off before that, it will always feel odd to get on a train going to Edinburgh but not actually making it back there… I used to think when I got past Newcastle, ‘not long now, more than 2/3 through’… the Tyne bridge was always a signal I was getting close to home 🙂

But get off I did and in dogged determination decided as you do round here that umbrellas are for wimps and it’s just a bit of water, not worth the bother.


So on top of tired, rough, grumpy-ish (train was on time so thumbs up!) and cold I was now completely sodden. Well done me. Room wasn’t ready so I decided to park myself on a comfy armchair next to reception and not to move until the ladies arrived and we were off to some warm lunch after which I wanted my hotel bed for as long as possible before having to brave it out again.

Thankfully about 1h later the ladies did arrive and things started looking up! What we hadn’t counted with was that we were competing for local amenities with half the male population of the North as well as incoming troupes who had arrived for a football match and if I understood correctly also a boxing one and also, you know, bank holiday weekend! We were probably outnumbered 20/1 in town this weekend and every pub was packed. So braving the great-North-wash-away yet again we retired as ladies who lunch to a lovely Browns, where in spite of being busy we were accommodated and they moved tables around so we could stay for as long as we wish. I was reminded how friendly and welcoming people up North are and I used to like coming here with work to the brewery 🙂 Lovely place and people. I sadly decided to forego the beer I had been dreaming about since scheduling the trip (in memories of my old brewing days) as well as any caffeine and chose a big pot of peppermint tea instead. After some very proper steak and Guinness pie with mash and roasted bone marrow and fish and chips plus cherry and apple crumbles with icecream we were ready for bed!… er no, for that other event of the day!
Thankfully the company, the peppermint tea, couple pills and the warm food plus a 40 min nap did the trick and I felt nearly human by the time we were marching on the Mining Institute, where the QA was scheduled.
Lovely old building, filled with old photos and a smell of the times as well 😉 Wish they had allowed us to roam around a bit while we were waiting.

(photo taken the next day when, ha! the sun was shining pretending the deluge the day before hadn’t happened!)

We were finally ushered into a surprising old fashioned but beautiful lecture hall in a very intimate amphitheater setting.


(different event, sorry for the pinch, just to give you an idea)

It was really cosy and toasty after the cold and wet outside. Too warm actually, as if the fires needed stoking any more, if you know what I mean… Still debating if he stuck to his leather jacket in spite of the stuffy heat for our benefit (that T-shirt and bare arms would have been weapon grade) or realistically, he had too few and not warm enough clothes on and had been rather freezing himself for the sake of rocky looks and was grateful for the heat 😉

So yes, turns out Richard was there. And we were as instructed in row 2, trying to not be quite in his face but sideways, however since it was so small no brave souls sat in row 1 so we became front row… yet again. And there he was…. It suddenly sunk in why I was there, what was happening, that he was physically there, a meter away, walking, talking, breathing, casually but deadly dressed in all black, charmingly deploying all his means of entrapment. Black skinny jeans (because he can), cool black leather trainers, black leather jacket(!) and a t-shirt I was instantly mesmerized by. As Esther pointed out.. THAT T-shirt! Well, let’s talk about it 🙂


Esther’s skillful fingers took this gem

Fan forensics of course identified it successfully as Alexander McQueen and it totally makes sense, there was just something about it. There are much more out there t shirts in their collections, this was understated simple cool. It’s part of their 2017 fall collection, which had some old military uniform inspiration elements. It mimics these fronts and emphasizes of course broad chest and narrow waist in the wearer.



you get the idea 😉

And all black was visually great as it always looks good, emphasized his silhouette but was natural and relaxed. Look, I like men’s garments and like it when they dress well or things look good on them, regardless of who they are and this was a great look 🙂 Also black is a great colour, because once you’d seen it you could just focus on his face and hands when he spoke as your eyes were naturally drawn to the skin patches in the black figure. I don’t know if he thought about it much, but I suspect these things are actually taught in drama school and he certainly has a strong visual instinct (judging by his occasional photos) so it was very effective not just nice to look at.

To my surprise the guest was he and Caroline Goodall was the interviewer! But I was glad she also pitched in with her own opinions on various matters and it was thoroughly fascinating hour of chat about the evolution of his career but also about the business of film-making itself, not just the craft of acting. I hope the video they took will be made available to the public. Her respect and appreciation of his skills was utterly endearing and it was lovely to see they were friends. Both were relaxed and in a good mood, chatty and open.

There were 3 very stately chairs up front, one which looked more like a throne and Caroline jokingly said he had to take it! He sat there laughing but jumped straight out saying, oh no, but there would be one chair between us! He then discovered a wooden judge-type hammer and slammed it briefly jokingly to declare the session open and quiet down the excited murmurs in the audience 🙂

But then there are also the almost reflex, involuntary gestures. He sat down and by the nature of the tight semicircle of the auditorium seating he would have been turned away from the side to his right so he moved the chair and himself in it to turn so he could at least sit in profile and by no means give us a shoulder. He then turned down the microphones they were given to wear to amplify the voices to almost nothing so that he could speak naturally as if speaking directly to audience and not AT them. It’s small details, but his instinct is clearly to take his surroundings in and react to them, make himself part of them and make it ‘comfortable’, ‘safe’ for everyone. It was as if he wasn’t settled until he felt everyone else had the best experience too. Then he was happy and relaxed as well.

He’s certainly a complex person, which strikes me again and again every time I get to see and especially hear him live. He said as much himself, he used ‘conflicted’ so it’s not just my interpretation, although I choose to see it as complexity, not just ‘conflicted’ 😉 ; for me the 2 go hand in hand. He’s in many ways the same actor who fascinated me back in the Discussion about the Crucible but in many ways more, an even more matured, more experienced and more assured version of himself.

His voice is soft and pleasant, a friendly and I think in this case almost intimate tone. It’s certainly not the assertive or attention drawing tone of any of his audio work 🙂 It’s just a normal speaking voice.

There were the known facts about the start of his career and moving on from musical theatre, to the equity card (and equity is still important!), to the surprise casting as Thorin. (Wonder if all agents are such ‘darlings’ 😉 I’ve heard this sugary imitation of agent communications from others before , he said his agent called : ‘darling, let’s meet up’ and he knew that if it was more than a phone call, it must be important!) He mentioned the back pain at the audition and the lasting clicking his back sometimes still does as a consequence. He spoke following Caroline Goodall’s admiration for Thorin’s death scene and the character in general about creating it over a 3h period of takes done lying on the ground, because he felt it’s not over in a blink of an eye but takes time. He repeated his interest in conflicted characters because he thinks that normal people are often conflicted and still mentioned, at Caroline’s prompting, Guy of Gisborne with interest and as an example of where he was allowed to play with it because the writers understood and allowed the character to seek some redemption as well.

But there were also some interesting perspectives and insights in his attitude towards his career and work overall.

I felt both pride and relief in a way when he spoke about his agent and also himself working from early on towards a long term fulfilling career and not superstardom per se. At it was said from the perspective of time and what he felt they were achieving. He sounded confident and it pleased me and made me look forward to the future and all the things to come. He confirmed what he has hinted at before that it never is about the money but about the material and he hopes it will always stay this way. But there was also more about him being an English actor at work and having a ‘getting on with it’ attitude towards work which I think we’ve always heard from his colleagues through their appreciation of his reliability and collaborative approach on set. He expressed the belief that this kind of attitude of not making a fuss and getting on with it was the reason he was asked to join the Ocean’s 8 cast.

He expanded even more talking about the contribution each role makes to the film. For him it is not only/primarily about the story of his character but how it fits into the whole. It not about showcasing himself but making the right and best contribution to the whole. And I believe that is one of his strengths and what makes him such an interesting actor, beyond just a leading man! Caroline Goodall also emphasized this duality in his craft, he can do both leading man and character and in a way merge them both. She described him as a ‘shaman’, a cameleon who can become what the story needs him to be. It made me think back to both the Crucible and Love Love Love but also some of his film roles, like say Standring… he was subtle and made the ensemble stronger with his contribution. And if you look close enough you realise the amazing level of skill and subtlety it takes to make that kind of contribution. He is excellent without that ‘look at me’ vanity many actors involuntarily have. It makes me respect him even more becomes it comes from a conviction about the craft and the values of each person’s work.

And going back to the theme of trajectory he also mentioned about roles in general and choice that each preparation is valuable even if the role does not come to pass or if the material is not that relevant to the role, you always learn something interesting. And also that a role can be a door opener and a step on a path to others, even if taken on its own it may not be his choice. It’s not the first time his comments have indicated this feeling and intention of a journey in his work, but it was reassuring to hear it from him. Basically it reassures me, eager fan, that there is a next step, a next role and that at this stage he is confident about that being the right approach for him.

Responding to questions he also mentioned that he thought he wouldn’t do horror, especially involving kids and was a bit apprehensive about his current project , but that it turned out to be more physiological thriller. But that he would still be actively avoiding any slasher/blood everywhere type horror 😉

He feels he may be out-spied and may have done one too many, but that in action movies his approach has been to try as much as he can to make it believable to the real professionals so that they could credit his character on screen with a fair representation of the ‘truth’. He got very passionate about presenting the ‘truth’ when in front of the camera, so much so that if he feels he is failing he has to stop and feels like he wants the earth to open and swallow him up.

Still talking about his craft and answering questions he explained that however much prep he does at the end of the day , unless the background story is actually represented in the film it has to stay ot of it, it is for him to have internalised it or read about it and get some ideas but not for the audience to observe it ; it’s about the character now and where he goes next.

On film-making in general he feels he has somewhat a director’s brain in that he has a very vivid image about the set up and then it can sometimes be difficult to adapt to a very different one coming from the director 😉 CG said she would like to see him direct, he would be keen too but is an awe of all the women who can , like Delpy or Bullock, he could never multitask like that because once in front of the camera he is absorbed by the acting and could not go back and forth between behind and in front of the lens. My thoughts were two-fold.. he does seem to have a wonderful imaginative brain that paints around the script and pieces everything together with a million threads and he should employ it at least as a trial in directing once 🙂 But the fact he gets so absorbed in the acting also says to me… that is what he is deep down, instinctively. In both instances he is a story teller! Through the character , but able to see beyond that , because of the way he integrates himself in the whole. Question is would he be able to separate himself from the character to tell the story from outside? 🙂 And hopefully even if he does try I hope he doesn’t cross over permanently since he is so good from the acting perspective and also enjoys disappearing in it so much! I’d feel a terrible loss being able to be part of his stories just from an outside narrator perspective…

There were also interesting debates about the business aspect of film making. And it is one aspect where according to his own statements, but also his stance, his tone and his whole attitude he’s clearly benefited a lot from his time in NY. If you want to be a player at that level it’s not enough to be passionate and good at the craft, these days you have to be savvy about the business of film as well. He’s learned to be more cold and determined in asking for roles and pursuing them, more active. In spite of what he says is he passive nature and the tendency of all English actors to be a bit apologetic about wanting to act and feeling rather grateful when they get work 😉 America teaches you to be more hard-nosed about that, both admitted, and for the better in one’s career.

Responding to questions and continuing the comparisons he spoke appreciatively of writing in the UK industry, of scripts that hardly need touching when they come out of a single talented writer. Whereas in the US the writers’ room can by necessity become a machine when they need to churn 22-23 eps and when character continuity and story continuity can become difficult and he’s experienced that as well. But they felt that especially in the past US benefited from more roles and bigger budgets. Uk indies have grown but there is still enormous pressure and in spite tax allowances it can still service the US filming with less stuff being made for here. They were both very sympathetic to the struggles faced by indies and he mentioned that although he was really have Urban was getting a ‘soft release’ via internet he was still a bit sad it wouldn’t see the big screen.

He became wistful though about the English roots of his acting and drawing on some of the tradition and subject matter and the story telling vs just the psychological profiling in some US writing. He mentioned a great Stephen Poliakoff script he had read but he had unfortunately not be able to do and mentioned several women writers , Sandy Wainwright for example he appreciated. There was a gentle determination whenever he mentioned people to talk about the female directors and writers. And I very much appreciated that as it was unprompted but very clear from his side 🙂

This discussion on the business side was quite extended and I hope the video will be made available for those who want to know more about the issues. There was interesting insight of how the US industry works for actors re unions and the like there compared to here and how it influences them getting more work, as foreigners not being part of the unions themselves etc. While I agree the tax allowance hasn’t been the solution for industry here (although it gives many people a living and has developed technical talent like never before, which is a great thing) and in sheer quantity the amount of TV and film in the US creates more roles, I disagree in variety of roles and material. But it wasn’t the place or rather there was sadly no time to expand this further. (eg x cops and doctors shows plus x sci-fi/monster series or action movies/blockbusters certainly employ more people and guarantee more people can earn a living in the US from the business than probably in Europe in total; but from the perspective of watching somebody who is more talented than just the ‘making a living’ I doubt or question rather that currently, given existing writing, quantity gives variety. I am in two minds about this discussion… I would love to hear their thoughts and hope there would be a non-controversial or polite way of raising it and wish I had been brave enough to do so… but I wasn’t and I don’t want to stir the pot to be honest. Ultimately although there is the quantity, he seems to want more from roles which is maybe why he leans towards indies with different stories. Ultimately, I am not at all concerned that he would end up doing 10 years of one series 🙂 Not at this stage anymore, don’t see him wanting that for himself).

Last, but not least, he mentioned some projects and ideas or collaborations which he I still working on or hoping to realise in the future, like the Oedipus trilogy with Yael Farber or which maybe they could even make a film as she is trying to get into that, his own interest in Bridget Cleary and the idea to make a small version film of the Crucible if they do manage to convince the Miller estate to let them. It was a surprise to see he still hasn’t let go of John Proctor 🙂

All this was punctuated by a lot of gushing from Caroline Goodall, which we all approved of and smiled about and where he silently picked at his fingertips ;-), by the disclosure that Capotondi who he likes, sadly thought they had too much chemistry in the once scene together in BS so it got shortened and by general hilarity about the fates of English actors in US films talking to each other in and learning American accents. Prompting Richard again to air his ‘flaws’ 😉 and reminding Caroline that at the first BS reading when he tried to impress her with his American accent she said in all honesty: ‘Ahhh, so you’re Irish!!!’ She nearly fell of her chair in laughter and he laughed along embarrassed at his early attempts. He had earlier commented in context that he has now realised that he has to stay in his US accent for it to be consistent which he has done on the Lodge.

He’s also learned to like improvisation during the Lodge, which he wasn’t a big fan of before but feels that if he prepares beforehand he can be more free doing that too.
There is a wonderful sense of freedom, curiosity and desire to expand, learn, experiment about him combined at the same time with confidence in sound approach that is fascinating and makes me respect his professionalism very much. Makes you definitely want to see the product of his efforts 😉 Makes me want to brave stories I might otherwise not, just to discover a new conflicted person he brings on screen.

And then there is that focus and curiosity and openness turned on each person asking a question, the intent listening and wondering what people want to know about, what they are curious about and want to learn about. Makes one infinitely curious about those instances in work where he gets to ‘spar’ in a way on visions about characters and stories.

His hands talked as much about his emotions and thoughts as did his voice and it would be a lie to pretend one isn’t as fascinated about their language too. And when he was listening I got distracted or rather put at ease by his steady breathing more than once. (If you don’t know what I mean go get yourself on youtube to one of his many press junkets and tune out the interviews and watch him sit there breathing 😉 ). One of the quiet pleasures in the world of being a fan.

It’s an undeniable pleasure to see him act, but it is almost equally fascinating to hear him think and talk about what goes on behind the acting and I am grateful he is willing to open up the discussion and let us be part of it. It’s rare and not many actors I think are open to this level of sharing and complexity of discussion outside their profession, actors’ studios and the like. It is entirely special and done in his very unique way. I was wrong in expecting there to be little interaction during the day, apart from the autograph signing and photos which followed the Urban screening later on (and which I’ll leave for a part 2). He gave not only of his time generously (having made his way there on his own with no assistance ), but there certainly was interaction. And there is so much more to ‘interaction’ than a signature and a photo. Maybe I felt it unconsciously before , forever interested in his interviews and fascinated by the live versions of his QAs, but I certainly know it know. This is interaction! And he brought not just his physical presence to it, but his mind, his ideas, his passions and even some of his trials and tribulations and he shared those rather generously and with detail and consideration, with acknowledgement of our interest and serious and I’d say respectful response to it. I feel more conscious and thankful of it than ever. (And not a jot emotional about it all, nope!).


Still Esther’s treasure 🙂


Berlin Station- before the end of S1

Apologies to those who are waiting for more details of the Love Love Love play. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a bit more about it before heading off to see parents for Christmas. It’s been a bit hectic lately but I did want to just say a few things about Berlin Staion ep 9 before the finale.

I’m borrowing riepu’s amazing gif to illustrate the reason why I have kept watching the series 😉


Kindly borrowed from riepu10 on tumbler 🙂


I have to say there have been less surprises in the series than I would have expected based on reading Steinhauer’s books. Or at least I have not been very surprised, including in episode 9. I hope some twist has been reserved for the finale otherwise I would be pretty disappointed with the overall plot and it’s predictability.

Don’t know about you but I didn’t think it was in the least bit shocking that the Germans were one step ahead of the game. It has been clear all along Esther knew more than she disclosed and they/she had been onto at least Daniel from very early on. And let’s not forget they are the ‘home’ team. They would be doing a very poor job of it if they weren’t at least as smart as they appear to have been. I also never thought Hans was quite as innocent as Frost seemed to believe. And wasn’t it Kirsch who actually warned Frost at some point about Hans and trusting him too much?

Speaking of which it seems to me where the spy-business is concerned Hans and Kirsch were the most professional all along and reasonably good at their job and mostly getting their priorities straight. Well, Kirsch might still turn to Mossad but I don’t really think so at this stage.

Sandra would probably also make a better spy than most in that section, I hope she stays. Otherwise that station really does seem in a bit of a mess. I am really tired of Valerie’s chips on the shoulder. I don’t think anyone with that much baggage and prejudice could make an effective and competent agent. The least an agent could do is listen to what others say, even if only to factor all information into the equation. If the series really would have wanted to shake things up from traditional settings they could have switched roles between Kirsch and Valerie. That would have made for interesting dynamics. But the way things have gone for both Frost and Valerie I could only say good riddance.

I mean Frost bumps into Kirsch and gives his wife an envelope for Sandra?? Really? I have to say Richard Jenkins played Frost really well, but the level of incompetence and bumbling around stretched the imagination for somebody who is supposed to be really experienced.

I’m not sure the CIA had to be quite such a mess in comparison to the German team, all the way more composed, professional, etc. Too big a contrast really.

I do have a niggle about Esther though 🙂 She dresses way too flashy for a spy! All that red in winter in Germany? But I’m willing to close an eye here because she’s a really interesting character and obviously a good spy. I’m not so willing to forgive her all the furs! In this day and age that is laying it on unnecessarily thick! It would stand out way too much. As se generally does, she’s a bit too much of a head turner to be a discrete spy 😉

There is one thing that really bothers me about the German team operated. They knew Julien had killed Clauda from the very beginning but let the game play out to catch out the entire CIA station. It doesn’t bother me from a plot element perspective. It’s just a cold calculated move, which was necessary to achieve the other goals of course since catching Julien at such an early stage would not have given them the CIA station but still… it’s cold. Poor Claudia, who I really liked died for nothing 😦 And of course Ingrid was used in the process, she just doesn’t realise it. But as much by the home team as she thinks by the Americans… sad view of freedom of press. But that is within the scope of the series so well done on that. I wonder though if these side effects which are however very important are evident enough? I would have liked for Ingrid to get a bit of insight into it or somebody to reflect on the lives of the completely innocent lost with no purpose at all. (Yes, there have been many deaths but Claudia’s was the most innocent one).

I was sorry Julien had to die but I didn’t see another solution for that plot line either, it was more a question of when rather than if. I am doubly sorry because I think Sabin Timbrea did a great job with the character and its multiple sides and he was really interesting t to watch. If I have enough reasons to watch S2 I will miss him.

Hector still is an interesting character as is his ‘friendship’ with Daniel, as much as 2 spies can be friends. I thought the dynamic between those two took a while to develop but there is something there (though it could have been so much more though had it been given some more attention). I do think Hector got progressively less interesting though and turned less complex in the end than initially anticipated. Some things were hammered home way too often and way too much, to the point where I didn’t feel the whole detail about what happened in Morocco in visual detail was necessary at all. At the point where it came we had already figured out what had happened there. To me it was completely superfluous.

I’m also not quite buying Patricia. I don’t think her being so calm while with Julien actually made sense since nothing indicated Julie was particularly stable or reliable on his actions. The tiny video from ep 10 only made things worse (like a lot of these previews have… ) she appears to judge Daniel for things that attracted her to Hector?! How does that make any sense at all. By the way I also didn’t buy that chemistry at all. The only way that could turn out making any sense at all is if she herself turns out to be a spy, a German one for example. Otherwise al her actions and words are a bit silly really.

Lastly Daniel – the character who seemed to mostly be around but not do much, whose actions seem to have limited consequences, other than when he just lets Hector do his thing. He seems to have been relegated to being the eternal observer, more than a character he is a collection of reactions. Those reactions have been well acted but I can’t help feeling very disappointed with the lack of meat on the bones of this character. And the fact that he has been used quite a bit as ‘meat’ at the same time. I am not saying those scenes have not been well done, but they didn’t actually take the character anywhere. At least Daniel had enough spy sense to not reveal anything either. Nothing the Germans or Esther got was from Daniel directly. It was just that, cat and mouse games.

What do we know about Daniel at the end of 10 episodes? That he thinks more than he acts, in fact that he seems largely reluctant to act, that he has some compass of right and wrong, that he has some family and that he does his job. None of it out of the ordinary, in fact he has been exceedingly ordinary. Just on that side of competent to not screw up – though that can be debated as every time he actively did not stop Hector a massive screw up happened. Is that enough after 1 episodes? If he was played by anyone else and I didn’t indulge myself in wordless minute acting would I care about the character? I doubt it. If he were to return I’d want a lot more for the character! Evil, good I don’t care at this point, just more to sink acting teeth in. Less of walking around being beautiful scenery.

I don’t think Hector will be killed off, Daniel would not have let him go if that was the case and there is potential to continue that story line further if both stick with S2 – one outside the system and the other inside (? But with doubts I guess?). That could certainly open things up.

Where do we go from here? No idea, the station is an unprofessional mess, I guess they need to sort that out in S2. I think it is fair for the home team to win, that is their job after all. I’m still I think with Hector/Ingrid thought it is not as black and white as they think and I’d wish Ingrid to be the third in the game if you will with much more awareness of everything that has gone on and less one sided view of events. I’d like there to be a link between her and Daniel , but that is wishful thinking and investing in a character that I don’t think will evolve that way and who, if he was to stay what he is in his job also wouldn’t evolve that way.

If Daniel’s role should stay exactly as it is and nothing more I think I’d rather he be killed off and move on to the next project. I can see some potential but it’s been a long shoot and a lot of time investment for something that as a character has yet to really pay off for RA. He can do so much more and I have difficulty understanding why the writers would choose to underuse him.

Mixed bag all along with positives that I really needed to draw out and which were mostly either in actors who were given too little time or have been killed off. Not nearly as engaging a watch as I had hoped for and with the major flaw that the characters one could most closely engage with and sympathise for were killed off while too many of the remaining ones are simply annoying or too one dimensional.

I’m rooting for a big clean up in the season finale.

#LLLPLay – about the play


I literally spent only some 54h in total from touch down to departure in NY and this includes travel to and from airport so unfortunately this trip did not include a lot of sight-seeing. You’re calculating right now and wondering what did I do that left so little time for such an amazing city?

Well, from Friday evening to Sunday mid afternoon I attended 2 matinees and 2 evening performances of the #LLLPlay. However, I did manage to do more touristy things than I imagined I would get the chance. And jholland has described our out-of-theatre activities so well I won’t repeat it 😉

Suffice to say I loved the city much more than I thought I would! I am a very loyal Londoner 😉 And I am not cheating on my home city when I say NY is wonderful, vibrant and relaxed. I look forward to going back hopefully sometime soon and getting to see more of it, exploring some of its quieter parts and not just the 24h tourist sites 🙂 There is an air of energy about the city which is amazing. I didn’t think living in London I could be overwhelmed by the rhythm of it but I was. Maybe because I was feeling under the weather and winter is also a factor. But I enjoyed walking through the city Sunday morning when there were less people around and just looking at the buildings and shops and what felt like normal life. I’d love more of that. I hope I’ll get to do that, immerse myself more in normal life in NY in various areas, do a bit more of what NY-ers do around town.

And I really really hope I get to return the favour to our lovely guides around town when they come to London next. I hope we’ll get an occasion for it! 😉

So the following will be mostly impressions about the play. Not descriptions and I think by now we have much better accounts of the details than I could ever give! There are detailed insights into the play act by act from Serv here  (act 3 ) , here (act 2  ) and here (act 1 )   (which I can now finally read!) And you’ll also find in these further links to her impressions, which I am also looking forward to reading more of.

A few more things before I dive in, sorry for the many digressions. Unfortunately I didn’t take any notebook with me nor did I even have time to find scraps of paper to write down any notes on. So these are just the most prominent impressions in my mind. I don’t think having a cold made a difference in the end although I feared it would. I was wide awake and gave it all the energy and concentration I had and luckily between the small space and the excellent diction my clogged up hearing didn’t affect my enjoyment of the experience.

There has been a lot of debate around it being useful or not to read the play in advance. I don’t think I could have resisted the temptation 😉 I was never sure I was able to go so I wanted to take part in some small way. I also wanted to understand what people were commenting on better and sometimes  when the subject can be more difficult I like to have some prior prep, especially when I know I am not going to be able to see something many times. Knowing something about it in avance allows me to absorb more details in one go rather than getting totally distracted or absorbed by the plot itself and finding out what happens next. But I only read it once for information purposes and didn’t go back over the detail beyond that before seeing it.

I also watched Wild (the broadcast from Hampstead theatre of another of Mike Bartlett’s plays) and absorbed Dr Foster (which is absolutely loved). I was less enamoured with Wild as some others because clever stagecraft does not mean great play in my mind. I do think he found a clever solution for the ending of Wild and since the Snowden issue is indeed still open in most ways I think it was a good was to deal with the lack of resolution of the happenings in the plot. Sometimes I felt with Wild that I was being preached at, but only minimally. It could also be that I’ve had way too many experienced of productions in opera where people assume the audience is uninformed, ignorant or just not alive to current happenings that they felt they needed to hammer subjects home a bit too much. I’m sorry for my temporary bias 🙂 I did enjoy the play itself and the back and forth of themes and he debate. And in hindsight, experiencing another work of his live has brought out some characteristics of his writing which I appreciate very much. While some of the subject I may already be familiar with I’ve come to appreciate his craft very very much. And I’ll explain why #LLLPLay was a key to that.

But to start with I was a bit ambivalent about Wild and very much won over by Dr Foster. I found Love Love Love to be a heavy meal on the page. Easy to read but the subject itself was very disturbing. The dialogue and the words flow with amazing easy and natural feel and it is one of Bartlett’s greatest skills! Theatre feels many times as interchanges of opinions where somebody speaks and everyone else listens and then somebody else takes a turn. And there is nothing wrong with that as it often allows us to hear not only what people say but also what they really think and feel. But it is not necessarily how people speak in real life 🙂 Replicating that in a play is much harder! Writing dialogue that is as natural as normal talk is an art and I’ve come to appreciate just how good Bartlett is at it. I think it is this great skill of his which made Dr Foster so good! Well, that and a very clever plot and great characters (superbly acted!). But you can’t be a great script writer without that skill 🙂

But when something reads so naturally it’s easy to get drawn into the characters and to dig your heals into the plot noticing less of the skill behind it. It’s fair to say I was appalled and disgusted by both Sandra and Kennet when I read the play. I felt pity for Jamie and Rose , but the latter also annoyed me. My feelings felt offended by the egoistic vein of these people, by their shocking lack of compassion. I didn’t even crack a smile while reading and the dark irony of it made me rather angry. Not because it felt unrealistic, quite the contrary. Rose’s realities are very close to my own, I understand the world she lives in. But the total oblivion of the parents to the needs of their children, their complete lack of evolution, maturity almost is not a pretty sight.

I seriously doubted I could sit through repeat viewings of the play without becoming depressed. I did by no means hate the playwright or think it was a bad play. But the characters themselves I didn’t enjoy and I felt the play did take me to a very dark place. I guess it is also context. It’s not been a great year for realities around us and struggles with housing and daily life are all too real in London. So the sudden excitement of seeing RA back on stage took a nosedive upon realising that the experience might be anything but uplifting and only one more reminder about the stuff going on all around me. It was clear this was going to be nothing like the emotional deep dive and cathartic experience the Crucible was. At least from reading the play. It felt as if this too was just forcing me to deal with the things that I already saw every day around me, every day at work on the news screens around me, every month when I pay the ridiculous rent and so on.

So I was anxious about the experience while I was at the same time looking forward to seeing him act live on stage again. The balance tipped in favour of the experience at an odd moment.  Every play I’ve seen since the summer has been depressing in its own way:  The Entertainer, Hamlet, Richard III 2x, No man’s land, young Chekov (Platanov), Les Blancs and the Red barn. None of them a barrel of laughs.  Or certainly not meant to be that.  But there were laughs, in most of them! And I wouldn’t miss seeing any of them, even though they are not cheerer-uppers. The plays and the acting was so great! And watching Mark Strong in the Red Barn it suddenly hit me. He’s excellent, just as good as I remember him from a View from the bridge which won him the Olivier. The Olivier for which Richard was also nominated. Richard who I very clearly remembered being as good on stage as the man I was watching. As many of the actors I’ve been watching. Of course the play itself matters but what matters even more is how it is brought to life and what you remember is the performance that made it real and memorable. I will remember not just the plays but I will remember the actors who made the plays stand out. And the vividness and intensity of the experience would always be worth it!

And the experience does not have to necessarily be emotionally overwhelming, or even cathartic (although I’ll always have a soft spot for an expertly closed emotional and story arc – thanks to Shakespeare) , all it has to be is intense. It has to make a difference, it has to grab you and in the best of cases it will make a lasting impact and make you think about it for a long long time. And sometimes it is much harder to put an open ended and un-resolved play to rest than it is a neatly tied up story (if done right).

I was still wondering though why people laughed so much during Love Love Love!

Turns out the play lifts off the page very well indeed. It’s a perfect mix of sparkling, witty writing, clever and clean production and excellent acting. Had I not read a bit about Michael Mayer before I would be convinced of his directing skills after seeing the play the first time. I love directions which support and enhance the play without being in your face. Of course that won’t work with all plays, but one as ‘verbose’ as this does not need distractions form excess of physical activity or props or sets. This is simple, yet elegant and leaves space for the family and generational drama to unfold.

You probably can’t really call the 1st act sets elegant 😉 But they give you in small details the exact feel of a student flat well lived in. The half eaten half burnt toast (I guess beans on toast as is the eternal student staple diet and because they have run out of beans), the dirty pint glasses, the lack of food but abundance of drink bottles. Clothes dropped carelessly around the old sofa, the portable telly sat on anything available (in this case an old suitcase). The only thing that drew my attention as potential miss match is the mixer tap in the kitchen. I tried to find out if this was available or typical in London flats in the 70s and earlier, but I doubt it since separate taps were the bane of my life in rented flats even a few years ago. But, it’s kitchen not bathroom so it is possible, I am sure they did their research more thoroughly than I did. Love the 2 seater sofa which effectively isolates Henry away from Sandra and Kenneth and is just big enough for Kenneth to splay on it in all his length. It also forces Henry to sit where he would look even sterner, in the armchair, rather than more relaxed on the sofa. And it emphasises the contrast between brothers when Kenneth bounces round on it or wriggles suggestively in it as soon as he has sussed out his brother is bringing a date tonight to the apartment. The simple use of that armchair and sofa is not in the words but is a subtle and yet very telling addition by the director.

Generally the movement in and around the furniture, especially the sitting down and getting up provided a continuous source of entertainment and discovery. And was one of the most creatively used acting props I have seen. Such detail! So telling! ( what would Kenneth do with himself if he didn’t bounce round the furniture in act1? I’d love to know how the movement was choreographed and how much input was given by director, actor, script, etc)

Act 2’s house is a gem of discovery, loved looking for the books, the paintings fit the style and money around, the furniture is spot on. Even the layout speaks to us! The table is set out just so that you can see dad and 14! Year old son mirror each other while smoking and drinking red wine. And again use of furniture tells us so much about the people and also defines their age so well! Both Jamie and Rose rarely sit on anything normally 🙂

And act 3 is as posh as it gets! The big doors to the gardens, the restrained furniture in pastel colours elegantly spaced out. Small details which tell you everything you need to know about their wealth/status/lifestyle. And again there is much acting of age, degree of comfort with oneself, physical state in just the sitting on the sofa.

The production puts just enough props around to boost key moments and I have to say the director has honed in on those perfectly. There is hardly a breather in this 2h fast paced play but where there is a pause it’s filled very effectively. It’s utterly entertaining and riveting. I could have seen it not 4 times consecutively, but many more without getting bored.

I even enjoyed the almost constant smoking if it didn’t make me cough! Those herbals are the worst!

The costumes where equally brilliant in shaping personalities and times and ages. Not too much as it could have easily gone overboard with Sandra but managed not to outshine her personality 😉 And not just Sandra, but the kids too. The parents are so elegant and wealthy in their old age, Sandra certainly likes her bling, while the kids are blatantly dressed very basically and practically. I am sure I’ll find the time for another post to talk about how some of the clothing detail contributed to the entertainment factor 😉 The hair was great too! I am glad we didn’t see a wig on Kenneth in act 1, they managed for both him and Sandra to go through very fast and very natural hairstyle changes. Impressive given the short time available for those changes. They even thought about details like the watches Kenneth wears which travel appropriately through time.

It’s testament to the great cast and direction that it stays fresh night after night after night. I would say it almost takes more than one viewing to start to appreciate what an intricate and fragile construction it is and the level of attention to detail and precise executive it requires to work the way that it does.

I can’t begin to imagine how dialogue that is so messy and natural gets puts together! Not only do they talk over each other like people do, but sometimes people talk and don’t listen to each other at all. At least with dialogue, even if broken you have clues to latch onto but if you just speak and other people talk over you it must be even more difficult to land the punchlines! Hats off to absolutely all of them! The word ping pong alone was worth the price of the ticket, after the first time I literally looked forward to the vocal sparing and to the next line!

And while I didn’t laugh as much as maybe others in the public the first time round I certainly did the other 3 times and probably more. They are shockingly horrible yes, but also funny because so outrageous. And even Sandra who is almost a caricature of a person has her moments. It’s not brutal all the time, there are flashes of all sorts of different feelings, even if only in mood changes on faces between words. Also the way the booze loosens tongues and makes all inhibitions crumble is done gradually and with subtlety.

What also keeps it interesting on repeat viewings are the variety of themes hidden in the play as well as all the things that are left unsaid. On first reading 2 things prevail – they are horrible egoistic parents who have screwed up their kids overlain on the social and generational problems of their times  – with compounded effect. But on stage there is so much more. Kenneth and Henry do have some things in common, at least in their relationship to their parents and there is some level of affection or understanding there even through the resentment and rivalry. And you are left wondering what happened through the years between this moment and Henrys death with some loss of connection being obvious (though hard to put down just to stealing a girlfriend).

Then there is Kenneth and Sandra’s relationship – their poor quality as parents can distract from the relationship they have with each other. There is obvious chemistry there and there is openness even though with horrible aspects in their discussion of their mutual cheating. They fully understand each other and love each other with flaws and all. It’s sad that they are into each other at the exclusion of their children but nevertheless the strength of their bond is really interesting and I have to say on stage, quite charming. There is something to be admired about the brutality with which they tell each other truths and their general commitment to be open with each other. And much to be laughed at when they recognise each other’s faults and irresponsibility so accurately but don’t see their own. I also find myself wondering who drives their relationship. The obvious answer would be Sandra, but it’s not always the case, as we are reminded of in the last act. She’s the more vocal one but I don’t get a sense of her making all decisions.

There is also the question of why both of them change so little in their lifetime? Yes they have jobs and houses and so on but emotionally, as adults they are equally or even more irresponsible as when they were 19. And whatever limitations society has put on them in their 40 they seem to be all too happy to ditch in their 60 to behave almost like 19 year olds again. I find that as sad as what they do to their own children.

I also found it interesting how prominent the mental health issues the children have are when you watch the staged play in comparison to when you read it. And this is down to mostly direction and acting, not text. But it is one more issue the older generation does not know how to handle and chooses to mostly ignore. And yet, while Kenneth ignores the depth of Jamie’s problems there is the other argument he mentions about Jamie being his own man, accepting him the way he is. Surely the solution would be in the middle ground between adequate help and acceptance. But I don’t feel like completely rejecting Kenneth’s view about the individuality of each person, in this case even if misguided as extreme parenting with his children.

And there is the big unexplained gap between their teenage years ruined by parents and their adulthood. I guess it’s why I don’t find it that easy to sympathise with Rose especially until the end, 20 years of decisions cannot be down solely to parental influence! Not when parents have obviously been happy to be hands off as soon as they could.

There are also of course the politics of the times, the issues around freedom and career development, of realising your dreams, especially for women, the cost of education and the choices available, the political views and so on. The passion for music and the idea of realising your early dreams and settling for less or trying to recapture the dreams…  It certainly leaves you with the feeling that there is so much more to talk about! Not least about whether or not the parents should have bought Rose the house which they could afford and she never can on her income. Yes, she’s made poor career choices not just because of her parents,  but can her parents simply ignore the lack of any security in her life when they can do something about it? After all he is doing something for Jamie, even if only because it is no bother and effort for him. With Rose it feels like out of sight, out of mind. While I don’t agree with her arguments I know that she has no other choice than to ask them for help.

What is interesting and also comes across I think stronger at first viewing is the change in writing between acts 1 and 2 and act 3. Act 3 has those key speeches from Rose , Kenneth and partially also Sandra and they cause some confusion in the audience reactions. People are unsure if to go on laughing because this time the various statements about each other’s lives but also society in general are more on the truthful than on the funny side. This time there is no funny come back, or very little of it. I understand why the choice but it makes it more difficult to hit the right mood with the audience I think. Especially as it starts in similar fashion as before with Rose fighting to get her parents to listen to her. It’s also the act which I think shifts most in feel from one performance to the next based on both audience reaction but also on stage atmosphere. Sometimes both parents are more outraged at the demands and accusations and sometimes less. I am a bit split about it as I am not sure it works completely. Especially as the end goes back to a similar mood as the previous acts.

There is also only a partial response to Rose’s assertions about society and I think it is a pity we don’t get a bit more of it. We’re left to wonder if these parents, as horrible as they are really are guilty of all the behaviours Rose heaps upon them. I think we are inclined to believe so based on what we’ve seen so far but I am not entirely convinced.

Lots to think about and I still crave seeing it more time to peel of more layers or turn some questions in my head some more and try and guess some answers from the detail of the acting. Which I will need to come back to in another post as I do want to pick them apart a bit more, especially in light of RA’s recent comments that it is all in the text 🙂 I want to have a word about that!

#LLLplay is certainly a very interesting and good play to sink one’s teeth in. One which doesn’t provide answers to all the questions it raises but I don’t think it needs to. It certainly throws the questions out there in a most entertaining way. I guess we’re allowed to laugh at their expense because we’ll try to avoid at least some of their mistakes 🙂