[Wow, that sounds as if I had a conversation with Richard Armitage. Eh. No. But I was there at the conversation with Richard Armitage, organised by the Old Vic, on Tuesday September 2nd. And wow, did my stars align for that whole trip.
Yay universe, I think we are in love again!!! Skip the first three paragraphs to get to the actual review/recount of the conversation event.]
Did I say somewhere that people who watch a play more than once are nutters? Well, I had gone down Nutley Hill pretty early on. Even before I set out to meet Servetus at the end of August. I actually booked my ticket before I even saw the play for the first time. The reason being that my wonderful shrine fairy Kathy Jones was going to be in London for the play, too, and had suggested I join her. So yeah, I *only* booked another ticket for TC because Kathy needed a companion. Yeah right. It certainly was another fan meet opportunity that was just too good to pass by. Because when will I see those lovely American sisters-in-RA ever again?
But the stars aligned, I said, and they did, because shortly after booking my performance tickets, flights still to book, news broke on the 31st of July of the conversation with RA. This was obviously too good to be missed, and the date for the general release of the convo tickets after friends, patrons and sycophants of the Old Vic had been given several days priority for ticket purchases was pencilled into my diary. Frantic e-mailing ensued behind the scenes. I needn’t have worried. It pays to know the right people, I can only say, because I received an e-mail by Helen who was equally unable to resist attending the conversation and not only offered to get a ticket from the pre-public sale for me, but simply asked how many she should get out of her possible allocation of four. Needless to say I advised her to get all four *ggg*, and Kathy and Linda60 were the beneficiaries of this. By Monday the 4th of August (at which time I incidentally was still in London after seeing TC for the first time) we had scored the tickets. Yay, yay, yay!
So on Tuesday, 2nd September 2014 I made my way to London, hooked up with Helen, went to see Sarah Dunn’s “Wide Eyed” exhibition (to be addressed in a proper review), met with lots of fellow sisters-in RA in the afternoon (to be discussed tomorrow) and finally headed to the Old Vic for the conversation event. Since the conversation has been published as transcripts by Film and TV Now here and here, I will not recount the whole thing but only reconstruct my reactions to it on the basis of the notes I jotted down in the ever-trusty note-book that night.
There was a wonderful buzz in the auditorium pre-event. The Old Vic appeared to be fully sold out, a great vote of confidence in the star of the conversation. Judging by appearances, the bulk of the audience was made up from fans, but there were a good few men present, too. We were sitting in Row L (which is the seventh row) on the left side. I was quite pleased to spot a camera by the coveted best seats in the house – F13 and 14
I’ll only say shirtless scene *ggg* – and took it as an indication that the recording was going to be made available eventually for those of my fellow friends and fans who couldn’t attend this. Amid the excited chatter of the audience, RA and the interviewer, London-based American theatre critic Matt Wolf appeared unannounced but to thunderous applause, whooping and whistling. Yeah, da fangirlz are in da house! Without the customary introduction and bio but a little advertising spiel for a book about the Old Vic, Wolf plunged right into the conversation. A bit strange, if you ask me…
Throughout the 38 minute conversation (I timed it *ggg*) RA looked comfortable and happy to be there, and to answer questions. He didn’t squirm or cringe, except for comic relief, answering in-depth and very articulately. What really hit me immediately was the deep timbre of his voice, which I found nearly down to Thorin level, and very Proctor-ish. Was “he” there with him? Hearing his voice, as himself, was somehow really affecting. I felt shivers going down my arms. It affected me more than his voice during the play – maybe because in the play there is so much else you have to keep up with with your senses.
Not that there was nothing to see with the eyes *ggg*. A casually dressed RA, dark jeans, I think, a dark formal jacket, a casual t-shirt with a collar, trainers. Himself and Wolf were sitting on two chairs, an occasional table between them, centre stage. Luckily he was sitting stage left-ish, so his head was turned to our direction when he was looking at Wolf during the conversation. However, what most struck me during the convo was that Armitage was really addressing the audience with his answers. When talking he looked into the auditorium, letting his gaze flow over all the rows, up and down. Which drew each and every audience member in, I think, as if the conversation was one between him and each of us individually. Very effective – it communicated confidence, awareness and comfortableness. It made me instantly feel comfortable about being there, not a passive onlooker or voyeur, but an active listener.
I loved the little bits and incidents of mutual understanding and connection between RA and his fans. Take this bit, for instance: In context with his previous knowledge and experience of the play as a drama student in his twenties , RA described his different insights into it with himself now a “42-year-old”. Much laughter ensued – because the man had turned 43 not long before, and the audience obviously knew about his slightly coquettish attitude to his age. Or later, when the conversation turned to the previously sent-in and vetted questions, and RA preluded his answer to fellow-tumblr sister-in-RA notallwhowanderarelost2’s question whether he would consider doing a musical or comedy after finishing TC, with a wide grin and saying “Who asked that question???”. And especially the fact that he reads
fan letters before his performances. Reassuring him? Giving him confidence? New insights? I thought it was a stroke of genius in terms of fostering star-fan relations that he had brought a fan letter along from which he quoted. (And of course I was doubly touched by it because it was from a German fan about the experience of living under a totalitarian regime that does not shrink back from instrumentalizing young children in order to gain information about dissident behaviour – a story I have heard many times, although I did not grow up in East Germany.) How nice to think that the many written messages to him may not vanish into thin air but do actually reach the addressee and even have an effect!!
The whole conversation was quite focussed though, and while addressing RA’s biography, his past experience with the play, how he decided on the part, his way of working, it did not really veer into his previous career landmarks but strictly stayed with TC. It was everything but boring, and it wasn’t necessarily “serious”, either, but it was certainly not as light-hearted and carefree as the Popcorn Taxi event in Sydney in 2013. For starters, the Australian interviewer Oscar Whatshisname was a bit more entertaining and faster of the cuff with reactions to the audience and to RA than Wolf. But maybe the Sydney event also had less stress attached. After all, the conversation was held on a day where RA was expected back on stage roughly an hour and a half after the end of the conversation. So the conversation stayed with the high-brow world of the theatre, the demanding play and the process of preparing for it.
Under “general impression of RA” my notes say “a serious professional”. Or more evocatively in recorded thought: “Wow. He loves this. He loves the whole process of it. He has thought it through. He is a Vollblutschauspieler.” That German word is so apt, I can not avoid using it. It means literally “a whole blood actor” or a “thoroughbred actor”. It implies that he is an actor through and through, that he lives and breathes acting, that he is passionate about and in his acting, and that he excels at what he does. I found him extremely reflective and honest on this particular role – he disclosed his fear about not living up to the role or for finding the last act extremely hard to play, being fearful of doing it. But also courageous for exactly the same reason – for taking on that challenge and testing the limits of his talents. And for allowing the play to overcome his resistance and propel him forward with every line. He equally appeared as a rational being who tries to understand the various impulses and influences he encounters as well as a man needing emotional stimulation in order to fulfill his job to the max. The latter I took from hearing that music has such strong effect on him, that he uses the music of Pärt, Darling and Penderecki as part of his preparation. Oh, and I actually also thought “Pretentious git!!!” when I heard about his choice of music *ggg*.
I loved how he has an almost personal relationship with Proctor. He quoted from Miller’s description of Proctor as an earnest, earthy man and admitted “When I first met him, I felt like a fool”. The whole bit about his trip to Salem in the spring literally gutted me. Just the way he got to know Proctor by seeing his property, his land, hit me right in the stomach. The character was a real person, is a real person, and RA has respectfully done all he can to find him and to represent him truthfully and thus do justice to him. Wow. That part was really evocative – the way RA connected lines from the play with recounting his trip. “I can close my eyes and I know where he was seated, I know where he’s been, especially when he says ‘I have been planting seeds near the forest edge’.” or “Where John says ‘Massachusetts looks beautiful in the spring’ I know what that looks like because I went there in that moment, when the sun was setting. I saw the place where Proctor’s house was, I saw the brook that runs by his field, I saw the clearing in the woods where supposedly the girls danced and the pathway where Proctor walked from Salem village to Salem town.”
There were other details about his way of working that really impressed me – particularly the fact that he ritualistically switches off the lights a quarter of an hour before the play to sit in the dark. To clear his mind, presumably, and zone in on Proctor, or inviting Proctor to visit him? I was struck by that oversensitivity of the artist, the way he seems to see Proctor as an invisible but existing presence, a soul maybe, that visits him in his? Hence he has to be respectful to this presence whom he is representing, and he can’t just shrug him off at the end of the night because that would be rude to Proctor. Maybe he employs him as his bodyguard, too, I thought to myself, because he comes out at the SD still with Proctor inside, and Proctor is like a filter through which RA apparently has difficulties seeing the
nutters enthusiasts who are waiting for him to make an appearance. How convenient… 😉
I could have listened to RA for much longer, it almost came as a shock when it was over. The insights into his way of working were fascinating, they were exactly the sort of thing I would ask if I happened to sit next to him at dinner. (But I’d probably be a bit cheekier and more entertaining than Wolf along the way
she says arrogantly.) He came across as an articulate, intelligent, reflective sort of man, not full of himself, but full of his art/craft. And happy to talk about that, to share the enthusiasm. Not in a proselytising or condescending way but somehow benignly sharing his approach and his own conclusions. I came out of it thinking “I am impressed!”(despite the gitty pretentiousness of his music preferences *ggg*). And with a renewed crush on the man, I am afraid to say. The muse was firmly elbowed out of the way when RA made an appearance as himself. “Armitage was his wonderful loveable self. Witty, funny, intelligent, thoughtful, talented, reflected, gorgeous”, is how I put it in an e-mail to a friend. Note that “gorgeous” is right at the end of the list, because what makes the man so attractive is not his chest hair or his peaches or his smoulder. It’s all the other attributes first. I’ll repeat again what Abby/Awkward Celebrity said: There’s a light on upstairs. Totally agree. May the power never be cut off!